When Michael Dickinson won the Breeders' Cup Mile with Da Hoss - the second time - he was hailed as a miracle worker, the "mad genius," as he called himself with a glint in his eye.
Few could argue. Da Hoss won the Breeders' Cup Mile in 1996, and then, off one prep race, won it again in 1998.
Yesterday at Laurel Park, Dickinson, who trains at his farm in Cecil County, won the Grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash with A Huevo, a 7-year-old gelding who had not raced in nearly four years. What will they say about Dickinson now?
Mark Hopkins, owner of A Huevo, became the first to try to put it into words. Speaking in fits and starts in the joyous winner's circle, he said: "They talk about him being the mad genius. If anyone thinks this man isn't the best trainer on the planet ... He's the only person who could have done this."
Hopkins finally got his thoughts together and summed it up this way: "It's mind-boggling what he's gone through with this horse the past four years."
Dickinson nursed A Huevo through numerous injuries while practicing patience and professing confidence in the talented horse. Finally, when Hopkins was ready to give up, Dickinson offered to train A Huevo for free.
Perseverance paid off for the "mad genius" when A Huevo, after bumping horses at the break and settling into last place, roared around the field on the turn and down the stretch. He carried jockey Ramon Dominguez to a 1 3/4 -length victory. A Huevo's time for the six furlongs was 1 minute, 8.90 seconds.
He paid $20.60 to win and would have paid more - much more - had anyone but Dickinson trained him. Bettors back Dickinson when they'd scoff at another trainer. A horse running in a Grade I stakes with a record comparable to A Huevo's ... well, a horse with that record wouldn't be running in a Grade I stakes if it were trained by someone other than Dickinson.
In October 1999, A Huevo won the West Virginia Breeders' Classic at Charles Town in track-record time. He was disqualified for a drug positive involving the banned breathing-aid clenbuterol, a decision Dickinson and Hopkins fought relentlessly. They still contend the horse was not given clenbuterol before the race.
A Huevo came out of the West Virginia race with bone chips in both knees in his front legs and both hocks in his rear legs. He underwent surgery for removal of chips in three legs. Dickinson saved the bone fragments.
"It was like we had a bag of chips," Hopkins said.
Each time Dickinson tried to bring A Huevo back at his Tapeta Farm in North East, the horse suffered another injury. Finally, Hopkins, who is Andy Beyer's partner in the Beyer Speed Figure business, said he had seen enough.
He told Dickinson to give the horse away, to find him a good home. But Dickinson's partner and assistant, Joan Wakefield, refused to abandon A Huevo.
According to Hopkins, Wakefield said: "This horse is born to run. I will not give up on this horse."
This year, finally, he remained sound enough to return to the races. In his comeback Aug. 9 at Mountaineer Park, he panicked in the paddock and flipped over backward three times. He raced and finished seventh. On Sept. 21 at Delaware Park, he won by two lengths. Then, in only the seventh start of his troubled career, he won the De Francis Dash, dominating a 10-horse field that included Shake You Down, one of the top sprinters in the country.
Shake You Down finished third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint three weeks ago at Santa Anita Park. He finished second as the 4-5 favorite in the De Francis Dash, possibly showing fatigue in his 12th start this year.
"He's had a hard campaign and is a little knocked out," said Scott Lake, his trainer.
Shake You Down grabbed a short lead in the stretch from pacesetter Crossing Point before watching A Huevo sail past. Gators N Bears, the only 3-year-old in the race, claimed third. The exacta paid $67, the trifecta $281.20 and the $1 superfecta $1,518.30.