Trainer Lake has opening with `Shake' in De Francis

Grade I win could bring step up into elite status

Horse Racing

November 15, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Robert L. Cole Jr. was responsible for Scott Lake's opening a stable in Maryland. Once Lake settled in with a string at Pimlico in the spring of 2000, he became the winningest trainer in America.

Today, Cole could provide another breakthrough for Lake if Shake You Down, whom Cole owns, wins the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park. Although Lake has won 1,552 races since the beginning of 2000, he has not won a Grade I thoroughbred race.

Wins at the top level separate the elite trainers - the Frankels and the Mandellas - from the so-called claiming trainers, who may win a lot of races but labor mainly in anonymity at the lower levels of the sport.

Lake yearns to join the elite. He could take a major step toward that goal in the De Francis Dash, one of three Grade I stakes in Maryland.

Lake's biggest win would come with a former claimer. Cole claimed Shake You Down for $65,000 in March at Aqueduct. Since then, under Lake's care, the 5-year-old gelding has won six of eight races, including one Grade II stakes and two Grade IIIs.

"We just thought he'd be a nice allowance horse or maybe win some small stakes in Maryland," Lake said. "He just happened to get a lot better than we ever dreamed he would."

Three weeks ago, Shake You Down finished third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the top sprint race in North America. As the bettors' second choice in the field of 13, Shake You Down broke last from Post 2. That forced his jockey, Mike Luzzi, to rush him into the race.

"Four jumps out of the gate, he was still beating only one horse," Lake said. "He really had to gun him, which really hurt his chances. He had every reason to run seventh or eighth. We were pleased with the way he ran."

Lake said Shake You Down prefers breaking from an outside post. In the De Francis Dash, he will break from Post 6 in a 10-horse field. Lake said that should be perfect.

Shake You Down is 4-5 in the morning line, but his odds might be even lower at post time. His recent record towers over those of his challengers, evidence that Cole's investment in high-level claimers is paying off.

Cole, 40, owns a mortgage business in Glen Burnie and lives in Howard County. His great-uncle was William Cole, the 12-year U.S. congressman for whom the University of Maryland's Cole Field House was named.

Cole, who began handicapping races when he was a teenager, began buying horses seven years ago. Three and a half years ago, he approached Lake about moving to Maryland and training his horses. At the time, Lake was stabled at Philadelphia Park

"I'd been impressed with him - how he would take a horse and then win with that horse at a higher level and keep winning at that level," Cole said. "I just thought he was better than everybody else."

During Preakness week in 2000, Lake took over the training of Cole's eight horses, moved about half of his own down from Pennsylvania and opened up shop at Pimlico. He exceeded even Cole's expectations and won more races that year (337) than any other trainer in North America.

In 2001, Lake led trainers again in wins with 407, becoming only the second trainer to win more than 400 in one year. In 2002, he won 400 but finished second to Steve Asmussen's 407. This year, through Thursday, with 150 horses in training, Lake leads Asmussen, 408 to 387.

Lake said he believed winning that many races would garner respect from his peers. Yet at the Breeders' Cup, he said, he sensed he wasn't held in the highest regard by the elite horsemen gathered there.

"Nobody really treats you bad," Lake said. "People don't come right out and say, `You're a claiming trainer or something. What are you doing here?' It's more underlying tones and things."

He acknowledged that he needs to develop more top horses to gain the respect he desires.

Race data

What: Fall Festival of Racing. Six stakes worth $725,000

Where: Laurel Park

When: Today

Highlight: Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash

Grade: I

Purse: $300,000

Distance: Six furlongs

Post time: 4:33 p.m.

Favorite: Shake You Down

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