Trainer Todd Pletcher spent Saturday evening in the United Arab Emirates watching the simulcast of the $1 million Florida Derby cutting in and out on his computer screen.
While Pletcher's view of the race was blurred, the result couldn't have been clearer. Scat Daddy's 1 1/4 -length victory not only established himself as one of the top 3-year-olds in the country, but also provides Pletcher with a strong hand come the May 5 Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher, who has unsuccessfully saddled 14 starters in the Kentucky Derby the past six years, could wind up at Churchill Downs in five weeks with three of the favorites in Scat Daddy, Louisiana Derby winner Circular Quay and Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Any Given Saturday.
Pletcher, due to return to the United States yesterday after having saddled several horses Saturday in Dubai's World Cup, has come close to winning the roses in Kentucky. Bluegrass Cat finished second to Barbaro in last year's classic and Invisible Ink was second in 2001. But in Scat Daddy, Circular Quay and Any Given Saturday, Pletcher appears to have his best shot yet of winning the event.
Scat Daddy comes into the race off victories at Florida's Gulfstream Park in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby. The colt is kind to rate and relentless down the stretch. Circular Quay, who is scheduled to run Saturday in the Wood Memorial, runs from off the pace and should benefit from the Derby's 1 1/4 miles. Finally, Any Given Saturday, who runs April 14 in the Bluegrass Stakes, shows tactical speed and was extremely game in finishing a nose behind Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Street Sense in Tampa, Fla.
Barring any injuries, Pletcher's three colts have enough graded-stakes earnings to qualify for the Derby. The same might not be able to be said for Centennial Farm's Chelokee. Making his stakes debut in the Florida Derby, Chelokee lacked room entering the stretch and steadied before closing to run a game third. With graded-stakes earnings of $100,000, it's unclear whether he'll have enough money to run in Kentucky.
Trained by Michael Matz, who conditioned last year's winner Barbaro, Chelokee is a talented colt who might have been the best horse in the Florida Derby. Whether Chelokee qualifies for the Derby or must wait to run in the Preakness, he's a colt worth watching.
Dave Joseph writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.