Scat Daddy, sire who died in 2015, dominates Kentucky Derby field in 2018

The Washington Post

On Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, there emerged a stud-fee list rich in glitterati. All the attention whooshed understandably toward the $200,000 that Ashford Stud, the U.S. division of the Irish global breeding colossus Coolmore, would charge those wishing to bring a mare to Versailles, Kentucky, to hook up with the freshly retired Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

Another number down the list would have drawn knowing nods within the microcosmos of horse racing intellectuals: The cost of breeding a mare with Scat Daddy, the blossoming sire merely 11 years old, had sprouted from $35,000 to $100,000.

Thirty-eight days later, on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, an overcast day with a temperature seeking 60, the Ashford manager Dermot Ryan tweeted: "Scat Daddy was in the best of health, but totally unexpectedly he dropped dead when walking out of his paddock. Everyone here at Ashford is very upset as he was a smashing horse with a great career ahead of him."

By this weekend at Churchill Downs, the 144th Kentucky Derby starting gates will bustle with horses and themes, maybe even more than usual. It will assemble some rousing prep-race winners, from Justify to Mendelssohn to Magnum Moon to Vino Rosso to Audible. It will have trainer Bob Baffert seeking a fifth Derby win with unbeaten Justify and Todd Pletcher seeking a third with a compelling four-horse charge headed by unbeaten Malibu Moon. It will be also, astoundingly, achingly, a Derby of Scat Daddy.

As the Blood-Horse confirmed this week, Scat Daddy will become the first sire in 95 years to produce four starters in one Kentucky Derby - one-fifth of the field - provided his four sons make the gate. His four aren't middling. They're Justify and Mendelssohn, the top two early favorites; Flameaway, the versatile Canada-bred sort pegged at 30-1; and Combatant, a 50-1 long shot never worse than fourth in seven starts.

"To have four in the Kentucky Derby, I mean, that is unbelievable," said John Gunther, who owns Glennwood Farm in Versailles.

Count Glennwood, with its 400 acres and 20-30 broodmares, among the smallish farms where the mirth of having a horse in the Derby is tinged with condolence. Through the wisdom of Gunther's daughter, Tanya, Glennwood bred its Stage Magic with Scat Daddy to get Justify on March 28, 2015.

Over at Clarkland Farm in Lexington, 400 acres and 35-40 mares, they've received flowers, including a bouquet from Marylou Whitney, who apologized for the lost Triple Crown after her Birdstone ran down Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. That's because the people who know the elusiveness of reaching a Derby want to wish a happy weekend to Nancy and Fred Mitchell, who have been at it for 40 years with some outstanding winners such as the three-time Breeders' Cup winner Beholder, but now have, whoa, their first Derby horse together.

They bred Mendelssohn, foaled on May 17, 2015, son of their Leslie's Lady, the 2016 Broodmare of the Year, and Scat Daddy.

"You know," Fred Mitchell said of Scat Daddy, "he was a nice-looking, big, strong horse. He didn't really start producing until after he passed away. He just had started to make his mark with the sire line, and he just boomed. It's just a shame that he's no longer around. It was a shock to everybody. . . . If he were still alive today, it's hard to tell what his stud fee would be. He would be one of the top one or two or three horses standing in Kentucky."

In a business where, Mitchell said, "You have feelings for them that no one can ever realize," it's one incredible thing to see a horse foaled: "When they stand up the first time, that makes the adrenaline flow. When you go back to the house, if it's 2 o'clock in the morning, you have a hard time going to sleep." It's another to see that foal eventually win a major race such as the UAE Derby in Dubai by 18 1/2 lengths, a Mendelssohn performance that reminded Mitchell smack-dab of Beholder.

It's still another to know what Gunther knew on April 7 when he watched the Derby 12-1 shot Vino Rosso win the Wood Memorial, then Justify win the Santa Anita Derby - the two of them born a day apart at Glennwood, then bouncing around the same field together.

By now, of course, Justify is "a man against boys if you look at him physically" and "about as perfect as you'll ever see," Gunther said. But even from the start, the son of Scat Daddy and Stage Magic had something. "If you were paying attention to Vino Rosso," Gunther said, "Justify would give you that look: 'Hey, what about me?' He would walk over like he was the king. And he knew he was. You could tell in the paddock, the way he looked at you, the way he strutted around. He knew he was the cat's meow. He really did."

His sire had come far. Named for his first owner, the former Wall Street maestro Jim Scatuorchio, and trained by Pletcher, Scat Daddy won the 2007 Florida Derby, then finished 18th in the Kentucky Derby, a tendon injury ending that career. Early on, stud-wise, he had done moderately well with some honors in Chile. In the North American sire standings, he rose from 36th in 2012 and 49th in 2013 to ninth in 2015, at $9.7 million in offspring earnings.

Posthumously, he has stood 12th (2016), sixth (2017, at almost $12.8 million counting Mendelssohn's win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf), eighth in 2018 so far. His final crop of foals has turned 2. As Scatuorchio said in an NBC feature last Breeders' Cup, "That can't be replaced, you know?" And as Gunther said: "It was such a tremendous loss to the industry. I mean, he's winning everywhere, in Europe as well. If he were alive today, he'd be the number one sire by far. He'd be up in the stratosphere."

In a sense on Saturday, he'll be there anyway.

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