"Oh, I don't mean I'm afraid of him," Scotty Schulhofer said. "But you've got to pay attention to any horse that's won nine in a row."
Fly So Free's fooling-around victory in the Fountain of Youth over the weekend raised a question: Who may be bold enough to send a 3-year-old to challenge him in the Florida Derby on March 16?
Schulhofer, Fly So Free's trainer and fan, had a ready answer: Jackie Wackie, whose success in the Cryptoclearance at Gulfstream Park on Valentine's Day was his ninth straight.
It was also Jackie Wackie's first victory anywhere but Calder Race Course. But his manner of doing it seemed to suggest the gelding does not have to "carry his racetrack around with him."
That was the rap hung on the near-great Easy Goer, who was in trouble when he ventured away from Belmont Park.
Schulhofer actually is hoping Jackie Wackie is pretty good. "My horse [Fly So Free] just needs some competition," he said the morning after the colt romped away from the Fountain of Youth field by three lengths.
Sent off at 1-2 at Gulfstream, Fly So Free pressed the pace until Jose Santos let him roll at the top of the stretch. He had opened up three lengths by the eighth pole.
"That's when he scared the hell out of me," Schulhofer said. "He started gawking around, loafing. It's a habit he has when he gets to the lead too easily."
Santos kept Fly So Free's attention the rest of the way with a series of serious righthanded applications of the whip.
"I didn't want to do it," Santos said, "but he was going to wait for the other horses."
At the end Fly So Free had answered another of the significant "questions" Triple Crown contenders are asked. Yes, he can carry his speed around two turns.
The colt had won authoritatively at the 1 1/16-mile distance in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but at vast Belmont Park such a race starts on the backstretch and has only one turn.
The next question -- can Fly So Free "get" a mile and an eighth? -- will be asked in the Florida Derby and again in the Blue Grass at Keeneland in April. The final exam is the mile and a quarter, at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
By now Schulhofer is assuming Fly So Free can fill all these capacities. "He can do things very easily," Scotty said. "Yes, he's about as nice a horse as any I've been around."
Jackie Wackie is a nice horse, too, but his credentials pale before Fly So Free's six victories, four of them in graded stakes, in eight starts.
Jackie Wackie is by Hostage, Fly So Free by Time for a Change, and each sire won a Grade-I stake in an injury-shortened career.
But owner Thomas Valando paid $80,000 for Fly So Free in a Kentucky yearling sale while Jackie Wackie went for $15,000 in the select sale of 2-year-olds at Ocala last February.
Jackie Wackie's co-owner (she didn't name him) is Carol Rocca, daughter of New England trainer Dominic Imprescia.
Imprescia, now retired, saddled Timely Writer to nine victories in 13 starts and the colt had an argument with Woody Stephens' Conquistador Cielo for Horse of the Year as he went into the 1982 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Timely Writer fell on the first turn and had to be destroyed. Oliver Edwards trains Jackie Wackie, but Imprescia is around in an "advisory" capacity.