Scat Daddy, who died in 2015, has four sons expected to start in the Kentucky Derby

Scat Daddy, who died in 2015, has four sons expected to start in the Kentucky Derby

Courtesy Ashford Stud

Kentucky Derby a Tribute to the Best of Scat Daddy

Four sons of the late sire set to start in the first leg of the Triple Crown.

The reminders of what was and, sadly, what could have been are as clear as they are numerous.

One son, Justify, embodies their father's brilliance. Two other offspring —Mendelssohn and Flameaway—wave the traits of precocity and versatility like flags, while still another descendant in Combatant does his part to showcase the consistency.

When the field for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) parades at Churchill Downs May 5, the best of what Scat Daddy brought to the breed will be on display. It will be a source of pride for those who developed the career of the son of Johannesburg and a most painful reminder of what they, and the industry as a whole, is missing.

With his sons Justify, Mendelssohn, Flameaway, and Combatant all slated to start in the first leg of the Triple Crown, the impact of the late Scat Daddy lords over the 1 1/4-mile classic this season. When the multiple grade 1 winner died suddenly at the age of 11 at Ashford Stud in December 2015, he was already in elite air, having sired 69 stakes winners with his stud fee set to be $100,000 for the upcoming season.

His legacy has only grown stronger in the years since his passing. In 2017, he cracked the top 10 of the North American general sire list, finishing sixth with progeny earnings of more than $12.7 million. Led by the exploits of unbeaten grade 1 winner Justify—the expected Kentucky Derby favorite—and regally bred Mendelssohn this season, Scat Daddy ranks fourth on the 2018 general sire list and now boasts 97 black-type winners from eight crops of racing age.

"He's one of my all-time favorites," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who purchased Scat Daddy as a yearling as agent and conditioned the dark bay horse throughout his nine-race career. "And my first reaction (when you say his name) would be to say how sad we are that we lost him as early as we did. This year really shows you that it's a tremendous loss to the industry to lose a stallion like that that was really hitting his prime."

Campaigned initially by James Scatuorchio and later by Scatuorchio, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, Scat Daddy captured the Sanford Stakes (G2) and Champagne Stakes (G1) during a juvenile campaign that saw him win three of five starts. In 2007, he stamped himself among the top Kentucky Derby contenders with victories in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and Florida Derby (G1), but he never started again after suffering a tendon injury while finishing 18th in that year's first leg of the American classics.

He entered stud in 2008 at Ashford for a fee of $30,000 and was the leading freshman sire of 2011 with more than $1.5 million in progeny earnings. Although he has had a number of exceptional turf runners, including Dacita, Lady Aurelia, and Caravaggio, his current crop in particular has shown aptitude over any surface.

The best example might be Mendelssohn, a half brother to champion Beholder and sire Into Mischief  who was purchased for $3 million by representatives of Coolmore Stud at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale. The Aidan O'Brien-trained colt captured the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T) in November and freaked in his first try on dirt, winning the March 31 UAE Derby Sponsored By Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) by 18 1/2 lengths.

"They (the Scat Daddys) seem for the most part … very sound, and they keep running," said trainer Mark Casse, who conditions Flameaway, a winner on turf, dirt, and synthetic. "They can do a little bit of anything."

The demand for Scat Daddy's offspring has risen along with the talent level of his runners. The Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream sale in March saw Pletcher purchase a Scat Daddy colt out of Risky Rachel for $1 million on behalf of Coolmore.

Like many in the industry, Pletcher wants as many fresh reminders of his protégé as he can get.

"This crop was sort of the reflection on his success leading up to that and to start getting the quality of mares that he was getting," he said."It's a shame we lost him when we did. But I'm proud of the fact that we bought him as a yearling and campaigned him and enjoy his success."