Saturday, May 1, 2004

Dickinson's unique ways breed success


His Tapit among today's favorites

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LOUISVILLE - Michael Dickinson arrived Wednesday and unrolled the strips of his homegrown, organically mixed sod; installed the air purifier in Tapit's stall; and mixed the Guinness beer and eggs into his horse's feed. Ah ... portable paradise.

COUNTDOWN
TO DERBY
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TOP HEADLINES
PRIOR COVERAGE
Sunday
Dirty little secret
Adding to grief are debts
Jockey moving, but lacking in context
Monday
VIP guests moved to infield
Castledale, St Averil committed to Derby
Tuesday
Layoff could be a benefit
Wednesday
Trainer's approach is off the beaten track
Jockeys hopeful of OK to wear corporate logos
Thursday
Hard times paved their Derby road
The Cliff's Edge made favorite in packed field
Friday
Success a quick climb for McKee
Limited sight doesn't limit horse
At least, that's the thinking behind such eccentricities from the trainer dubbed the "Mad Genius" by the racing press. The 54-year-old Englishman, saddling his first Derby horse today, has gone to extreme degrees to care for his horses.

It has paid off with a fantastic 24.2 winning percentage since coming to America in 1987. Growing respect for his success is why the lightly raced Tapit will be one of the favorites today.

"He does things unconventionally, but it works for him," Derby handicapper Mike Battaglia said. "I have tremendous respect for him."

Dickinson built a state-of-the-art training center on 200 acres in North East, Md., which opened in 1998. It includes three turf tracks - used under dry, normal or wet conditions - and a dirt surface that includes a secret recipe Dickinson had patented.

The farm has 50 acres of paddocks, 100 acres of cross country riding trails and an irrigation pond. The stalls have skylights with double-glaze windows designed to retain heat in the winter and allow ultraviolet rays to kill bacteria.

"It's tough at the track to get an edge," Dickinson said. "You've got to be really good to rise above the rest. I'm trying to give myself an edge and also trying to give the horses a better life."

For years in America, Dickinson had only modest success. Then he guided Da Hoss to victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile in both 1996 and '98, despite the horse having just one race in between. Cetewayo won a Grade I stakes for him at age 8, in a career that included two lengthy layoffs.

That earned him the Mad Genius tag, one he doesn't dispute. "I've been called a lot worse," he said.

Dickinson is a celebrity in England, where his training achievements landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records and earned him audiences with the royal family. In four years training steeplechase horses, he was the champion trainer three times, won 12 races in one day and saddled the first five finishers of the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup - the Kentucky Derby of steeplechase racing.

He began training thoroughbreds for British racing kingpin Robert Sangster but was fired after two years. Instead of returning to steeplechase, he came to America to prove he could succeed with thoroughbreds.

No matter what further feats he conjures, Dickinson doesn't believe he'll inspire copycats.

"They'll spend every dollar you make," he said of training centers. "And it takes every minute of the day. I love my farm, and it suits me, but it wouldn't suit many people. It's a passion."

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E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




130th KENTUCKY DERBY
This year's Derby is too close to call
Online Extra: Friday photos at Churchill Downs
Dickinson's unique ways breed success
Horse of a different color
Lion Heart, Smarty Jones may control pace
Derby: Wagering 101
Oaks: Ashado avenges Ashland defeat

FLYING PIG MARATHON
Foot power becomes a helping hand
New champions likely for Flying Pig
Flying Pig course map (PDF file, 460k)

BENGALS
Rudi will be in minicamp
Team claims Falcons QB Kittner off waivers

REDS
Rocket has Reds in his pocket
Miller back, in the lineup

MORE BASEBALL
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Indians shake up struggling bullpen
NL: Wood fans 10, loses to Cards
AL: Mariners beat Detroit in 10

BASKETBALL
Xavier, UC alumni face off in annual charity game
Miami manages a win to take series lead

HOCKEY
Admiral wallop Ducks to force Game 7 tonight
Leafs defeat Flyers to even series at 2-2

MORE SPORTS HEADLINES
Prep sports schedules, results
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