sweet willemina top three of scott lake’s greatest claims

By Dick Jerardi

Scott Lake has started 30,624 horses. The vast majority of those have been in claiming races. Lake figures around 80 percent of those were horses, he claimed.

After finishing third Saturday in the Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes at Laurel Park, Sweet Willemina, claimed for $32,000 on June 17, 2021 at Churchill Downs, has won $580,836 for Lake and partner Rich Ciavardone. The 6-year-old mare was 1-for-15 before the claim, 16-for-34 since the claim.

“Sixteen wins at like 10 different race tracks, nine different distances if you count the one-turn mile, the two-turn mile, the three-turn mile,” Lake said. “She’s shipped from here to Mahoning Valley, to Mountaineer, to New York, to Gulfstream to Saratoga. She just loves her job.”

Lake was right on the number of tracks and the distances too because the Parx Hall of Fame trainer misses nothing. He has instant recall on races, names, margins, how races were run, all of it. His 6,365 wins are sixth all-time. At his present pace of around 70 wins per year, he will pass King Leatherbury (6,508) and Jack Van Berg (6,523) sometime in late 2025 to get to fourth. And that, Lake thinks, probably will be where he finishes as Jerry Holledorfer is third with 7,770.

“In 6 1/2 years, I turn 65,”  he said. “I want to at least have an exit plan if I want to go.”

There was a time in the years from 2000-2009 when had as many as 287 horses in training between Charles Town, Pimlico, Delaware Park, Penn National, the New York tracks and, of course, Parx. He had some at Presque Isle Downs when that track opened and had horses at Gulfstream Park in the winter.

His win numbers during that decade almost look like a misprint – 2000 (337), 2001 (407), 2002 (400), 2003 (455), 2004 (374), 2005 (417), 2006 (528), 2007 (485), 2008 (421), 2009 (306).

“It’s like a blur now,” Lake said.

He cut back after that, but still remembers the decade fondly.

“I can’t lie, it was fun,” Lake said.

Most trainers have a goal to win the Kentucky Derby. Lake’s goal has always been to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. His best ever claim, Shake You Down, ran a solid third in the 2003 Sprint at Santa Anita. One of his most talented horses, Thunderello, after winning the Gallant Bob at Parx, ran an agonizing second at 48-1 in 2002 at Arlington Park.

For running just behind the Wayne Lukas-trained and 5-2 favorite Orientate, Thunderello got a 113 Beyer. The horse did everything but win, losing by just a half-length after surviving an early duel with the very fast filly Carson Hollow. She finished last after fractions of :21.53, 43.91 and 56.09 on the way to a final time of 1:08.89 for the 6 furlongs. The great sprinters Kona Gold and Xtra Heat were fourth and sixth respectively. It was a powerhouse field with some of the fastest horses on earth.

“The greatest feeling of all time and the worst feeling,” Lake said of that BC Sprint. “If we weren’t in the 1 hole and Ricky Dutrow didn’t have that filly in the race, we win the race.’’

Thundrello was the rare Lake horse purchased at a sale. Shake You Down was claimed for $65,000 on March 12, 2003 at Aqueduct for owner Robert Cole.

“If it wasn’t for Cole, I probably wouldn’t have claimed the horse because I knew he could run the horse back for $35,000 and he wouldn’t care,” Lake remembered. “He put probably a hundred or so pounds on before I ran him the first time. He was all drawn-up and skinny. Man, he just freaked. He was a beast.”

Shake You Down won a Lake claim-best $1,245,474 afterwards. The horse started 31 times for Lake, with 15 wins, five of them in New York and Florida graded stakes and Beyer figures of 118, 118, 113, 108 and 121 in the five consecutive wins after the claim.

Lake claimed True to Tradition for $35,000 on Aug. 11, 2007 at Saratoga. The horse had been running well in two-turn grass races as well as dirt sprints. Lake remade him into a grass sprint star, winning the Turf Monster at Parx and the Grade II Neartic at Woodbine in 2008. He finished seventh in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita.

In 47 races for Lake, True to Tradition won 13 times, with earnings of $819,254, making him the trainer’s second best claim.

Sweet Willemina, meanwhile, races on after wins in the PTHA President’s Cup at Parx and the Claiming Crown Glass Slipper at Gulfstream Park in 2021.

What exactly was Lake hoping for when he made the claim nearly 2 1/2 years ago?

“Win the ($16,000) starter never win two, the 16 starter never win three, the 25 starter never win four and maybe the `a other than,’ and maybe she would just be your typical claiming horse (after that),” Lake said.

Sweet Willemina did exactly what Lake hoped, winning those four races in a row back at Parx. Then, she won two more, including the President’s Cup, to run her winning streak to six post claim.

“She’s probably been one of the soundest horses I’ve ever had,” Lake said. “We did some work on her stifles one time and that’s been it. She’s been an absolute dream.”

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