HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Scat Daddy sat comfortably off Adore the Gold's hip in third place for most of yesterday's Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. But when jockey Edgar Prado gave him the sign to go, the sleek, dark brown colt moved smoothly into overdrive, pulling away for a 1 1/4 -length victory over the closing Notional.
Trainer Todd Pletcher - in Dubai, where he had five horses running - watched Scat Daddy with confident eyes on a fuzzy television with delayed audio.
"We could see on the broken feed we had won," Pletcher said via a telephone hookup. "We've had confidence in his ability for a long time and we felt, for whatever reason, he hadn't gotten the respect other horses had.
"But after back-to-back wins in the Fountain of Youth and in the Florida Derby, he'll get that respect."
In the Fountain of Youth, Scat Daddy, winner of five of eight lifetime starts, came from behind to beat Stormello for the first time and then-Derby-favorite Nobiz Like Shobiz for the second time. Yesterday, assistant trainer Anthony Sciametta Jr., who handled Pletcher's horses here, said Scat Daddy was "a little more impressive" when he took the lead this time.
"He's matured," he said. "When I saw him at the top of the stretch, I didn't think he'd get beat. ... He's on his game and coming into his own now, as we're going where we're going next."
That would be the Kentucky Derby in five weeks. This time, thanks to trainer Michael Matz and Barbaro's winning performance at the Derby off a five-week rest following victory here last year, no one will question the wisdom of a five-week layoff going into the Derby.
But Scat Daddy's co-owner, Michael Tabor, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1995 with Thunder Gulch and also owns and bred the highly respected 3-year-old Circular Quay, probably wouldn't have worried anyway.
"If you've got two horses like that going into the Kentucky Derby, you go there full of hope." he said. "Hopefully, we'll have one up front [Scat Daddy] and one coming from off the pace."
Prado, who rode Barbaro to victory here and at Churchill Downs, could not stop smiling. The veteran won six races, one short of Jerry Bailey's 1995 Florida Derby Day record of seven, and four of them were on Pletcher-trained horses.
"It was great to win this race like this after the terrible loss of Barbaro," he said. "This kind of horse cheers you up. Hopefully, he stays nice and sound for the Derby."
Prado said he had no promises from Pletcher, who has at least six strong Derby candidates, that he would ride Scat Daddy in the Kentucky Derby. Pletcher said: "I'm not a big two-race-commitment guy." But then he added: "But certainly the way he rode the horse today was pleasing."
Prado was pleased with the way he and Scat Daddy joined forces to take the lead. "He's got an easy running style," he said.
"There was a good pace in the race and I was able to sit outside, right behind the leaders. When I called on him, he came running. ... He was looking around a little, but nobody would have beaten him today."
Prado and Scat Daddy came home in 1:49 flat, the fastest time since Empire Maker in 2003 and good enough to beat Notional, who had closed strongly while running five wide into the stretch.
"I thought he ran dynamite," said Notional's trainer, Doug O'Neill. "These kind of races, with Scat Daddy and Stormello and Chelokee, it's a great field of horses. We were just outrun by Scat Daddy. You could run this race 10 times and have four or five different winners."
Perhaps the most impressive performance came from Chelokee (Cha-LOW-key), who had to be slowed when trapped along the rail at the quarter pole and then had to alter course to the outside in mid-stretch and still charged forward for third, two lengths behind Notional.
"He's getting better all the time," said Matz, Chelokee's trainer. "Ramon [Dominguez] said he was on the best horse, but I don't think third [which paid $100,000 and is the horse's only graded earnings] will be good enough to qualify [for the Kentucky Derby]. We know we're right on the bubble. We'll just have to wait and see. If we don't happen to make it into the Derby, he will be heard from again."
Street Magician, trained by Laurel Park-based Michael Trombetta, got off to an excellent start from his outside post in The Aventura, a $175,000, seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park, and beat Yesbyjimminy by a half-length in 1:22.38.
It was Street Magician's second career victory and brought a broad smile to Trombetta's face.
"Bernardini showed us last year that you can get off to a slow start and have a wonderful year," Trombetta said of last year's Preakness winner who went on to earn 3-year-old of the year honors. "This guy was a little late starting, but we'll see how far he can go."
Trombetta said the son of Street Cry, owned by R. Larry Johnson, was slow to mature, but had always exhibited talent.
"We've just been very patient with him and today he exceeded our expectations," said Trombetta, who believes the horse can go longer. "If he comes out all right, we'll point for the Withers and keep going from there."
The Withers is a Grade III, $150,000 test over a mile the week before the Kentucky Derby. email@example.com