Oh, how times have changed for Charles Dickey.
Twenty years ago, Dickey was training horses at tracks such as The Woodlands in Kansas City, Kan. He won thoroughbred training titles there in 1990 and '91, the first two years the track was open, but that didn't get him any national attention.
The Woodlands is now closed, but Dickey is going strong at age 70. Dickey, better known in racing circles as "Scooter" (a nickname he got as a child because he scooted instead of crawled), is the trainer of Flat Out, a strong contender for the Breeders' Cup Classic, which will be run Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
"This tops it all off," Dickey said. "It shows I didn't waste my time....
"It took me 70 years (to get a Breeders' Cup horse). I hope it isn't 70 more years before the next one."
Getting to this point wasn't easy for Dickey, a native of Anthony.
He started riding horses at small tracks at age 12 and first took out a trainer's license in 1963. His biggest victory before Flat Out came along was in a $100,000 race at Louisiana Downs.
Dickey's horses earned less than $100,000 in 2007, and in the spring of 2008 Dickey's barn was empty except for one injured horse. But he decided to stay on while his wife, Dana, battled a disease that has her on a list for a liver transplant.
"I wasn't in very good shape," Dickey said.
Things changed for Dickey in July of 2008 when he got a call from Rich Decker, racing manager for Preston Stables. Decker offered Dickey four 2-year-olds, including Flat Out, if he would be willing to take them to Saratoga in upstate New York for the summer.
"I knew Scooter was going to look over each horse like he was his only child," Decker said. "I didn't know Scooter was down to one horse, but I knew he needed something to do."
At one point it looked like Dickey might have Flat Out prepared to run in the 2009 Kentucky Derby until he was injured during a race at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.
It took nearly two years, but Dickey finally got Flat Out back in top form earlier this year.
Flat Out has two wins and three second-place finishes in six starts in 2011, including a win in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 1 at Belmont Park in New York.
"Because his nickname is Scooter some people think he's a young guy or a joke," said Bernie Flint, a veteran trainer at Churchill Downs. "There's no question he knows what he's doing. Don't think he don't. Age is experience and experience is invaluable in this business."
Oddsmakers made Flat Out the 6-1 third choice to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, behind 5-2 favorite Uncle Mo and 3-1 Havre de Grace.
Perhaps something else is going right for Dickey this year besides his success as a trainer.
He was playing poker on the front side of Churchill Downs in June when a tornado touched down in the barn area. And then in August, he was knocked off his seat at Baltimore-Washington International Airport when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake rattled the grounds and then waited out Hurricane Irene at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Dickey wasn't hurt in any of the incidents.
"It's a beautiful story," said Art Preston, the owner of Flat Out. "It's fantastic for this horse to have come through all these ordeals and to have him in the best condition he's ever been in, peaking at exactly the right time. A large part of that is thanks to Scooter. He has tremendous experience and the time to give to this particular horse, who needs a lot of T.L.C."