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Sunday, 21 October, 2018

The story of Scat Daddy, source of Justify and Royal Ascot sire extraordinaire

Michele MacDonald speaks to the connections of the late wonder stallion

Scat Daddy: the late, great sire poses for the camera at Ashford Stud in Kentucky
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Even as the vast Belmont Park grandstand quaked with the roar of fans celebrating Justify’s Belmont Stakes triumph to cap his undefeated run through the Triple Crown last Saturday, a quiet shadow was inescapable: a stabbing sense of what had been lost in the chill of a late winter's day three years earlier.

On December 14, 2015, the sire of Justify fell over dead, stricken by heart failure as he was walking out of his paddock at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud.

Scat Daddy was only 11 on the day he died. Today his record, as the sire of America’s Triple Crown champion and numerous Royal Ascot winners such as Lady Aurelia and Caravaggio, reveals that one of the world’s most versatile and promising progenitors was lost just as he was beginning to receive his best mares.

Members of the final crop sired by Scat Daddy, who have been in hot demand at breeze-up sales this year, will have their chance at Royal Ascot to blaze to even more glory for their sire, who is remembered by all those who were connected with him as a horse who always gleamed with a special shine.

Justify (left) - from Scat Daddy's penultimate crop - wins the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown

“I’m sure he was heading in the direction of the Galileos and the Sadler’s Wells of this world as far as how good he was going to be as a sire,” says Fergus Galvin, co-owner of Hunter Valley Farm near Lexington, where Scat Daddy was raised.

“It was just such a shame. You hate any stallion to pass away, but when he died, he was just on the crest of a wave. To think what he could have accomplished with proper Grade 1 mares, which he would have been getting, it could be staggering.

"It's staggering already – the fact that he had such international appeal, the fact that his offspring could literally run on any surface and at any distance."

An eye-catching foal

By Johannesburg and out of the Mr Prospector mare Love Style, Scat Daddy was born at Hunter Valley in May 2004, the first year that Galvin and his partners operated the farm. He is listed as bred by Axel Wend, a pseudonym for a prominent European breeder who at the time kept a few mares in America and who prefers not to be identified, according to Galvin.

A big, handsome foal, the son of Johannesburg was an eye-catcher, and the team at Hunter Valley – now a well known breeding and sale operation – seized the chance to buy him and his dam privately from his breeder when the colt was only about three months old.

“The very first purchase we made was Scat Daddy himself as a baby. We bought the mare, Love Style, and him together as a package privately from his breeder,” Galvin recalls. “And he happened to be the first yearling we sold in September the following year – the first Keeneland September yearling we ever sold.


SCAT DADDY'S ROYAL ASCOT WINNERS

2013 Norfolk Stakes No Nay Never
2015 Queen Mary Stakes Acapulco
2016 Coventry Stakes Caravaggio
2016 Queen Mary Stakes Lady Aurelia
2017 Commonwealth Cup Caravaggio
2017 Sandringham Handicap Con Te Partiro
2017 King's Stand Stakes Lady Aurelia
2017 Norfolk Stakes Sioux Nation

“It’s crazy,” he adds with a laugh of the unique distinction for the farm.

“The mare was very big, and we liked that because with Johannesburg being on the smaller side, she added a lot of size and scope to the colt that was Scat Daddy," Galvin continues.

"He was a tall, rangy foal, with plenty of leg, and a really good mover. That was the one thing that stood out about him from an early age. He really covered a lot of ground when he walked and that was a big plus for us."

When, as a yearling, Scat Daddy brought a final bid of $250,000 from top trainer Todd Pletcher, who was bidding for Wall Street investment guru James 'Scat' Scatuorchio, Galvin says the Hunter Valley partners were very pleased with the financial result and with the connections who would shepherd the colt through his racing career.

A terrific walk

Pletcher recalls that he was determined to secure the dark bay colt, who impressed him with the way he moved and reminded him that he had just missed out on buying his sire, the international champion juvenile Johannesburg.

A son of Hennessy and thus grandson of Storm Cat, Johannesburg excelled on turf and dirt, capturing three Group 1 events in Europe as a two-year-old in 2001 prior to dominating his competition in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on dirt at Belmont Park.

“He was an attractive yearling – big, strong and with a terrific walk," recalls Pletcher. "The only criticism you might have had of him was that he had a little bit of a plain head, but he was a terrific mover.

“We just really, really liked him. Mr Scatuorchio and our team talked about it and we just decided we were going to do the best we could to buy him.

“We had come very close to buying Johannesburg and got off of him at the last second, and obviously we regretted that. So, with Scat Daddy being a son of Johannesburg, we liked him a lot. We liked the Mr Prospector in his pedigree and we decided we weren’t going to miss him. Thankfully, it worked out."

It did not take long for Pletcher’s sense of the athletic qualities in the young horse to be validated.

He says: “I remember back in the December of his yearling season he’d gone to Payton Training Center, my dad’s training centre, after we'd purchased him in September.

"I usually talk to my dad early in the mornings when I’m driving to work. So, sometime in the middle of December I asked him if any of the yearlings were impressing him. He said at that time – and I don’t know if he had a name then – but he said 'I think this colt [Scat Daddy] is probably the best horse we’ve ever had on the farm.’

“I said ‘What?! It’s only December. Are you sure?’ He said, ‘I’m telling you this horse is special.’ And he was right."

'Everything you're looking for'

Scat Daddy won his debut in June 2006 at Belmont and followed up by winning the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga. After finishing second in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, he returned to victory in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont and by that time, Coolmore’s Michael Tabor had invested in the colt.

Pletcher says that, on reflection, Scat Daddy probably was not ready to run back in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he did not show his true ability and finished fourth to champion Street Sense.

But Scat Daddy returned the following season and won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Grade 1 Florida Derby, and he was one of the favourites for the Kentucky Derby.

However, the Derby proved to be the end of his career when he suffered a bowed tendon that eventually forced his retirement as, Pletcher says, “unfortunately we were never able to heal that up well enough for him to run again".


THREE ROYAL ASCOT HOPES FOR SCAT DADDY THIS WEEK

Lady Aurelia

Stonestreet Stables' flying filly will be back to defend her King's Stand Stakes crown and is bidding to make it three Royal Ascot victories in successive years

Sergei Prokofiev

Coolmore's $1.1 million yearling buy will be a force to be reckoned with in whichever juvenile race he contests, having won the Rochestown Stakes by four lengths last time out

Sioux Nation

Last year's Norfolk Stakes winner is among the market leaders for the Commonwealth Cup after putting clear water between himself and his rivals in the Lacken Stakes last month


Looking back, Pletcher emphasises how much he prizes his association with Scat Daddy and how much was lost to breeders and the entire sport of racing when the horse died.

“It’s been a lot of fun for us to see his success and it’s terribly saddening at the same time that we lost him way, way too soon,” he says.

“For a good-sized horse, he had plenty of speed. He had everything that you’re looking for – he was tough, he had a big stride, he had tactical speed – everything you could hope for.

“It’s hard to predict that a horse is going to sire a Triple Crown winner, but you could see he was going to make a good stallion and he was just really getting going,” Pletcher observes.

“What impresses me so much is his versatility as a stallion. He got colts, he got fillies, he got turf, he got dirt. He got sprinters, he got Belmont winner – he was literally capable of getting every type of good horse that you could hope for, from one like [King's Stand Stakes and Prix Morny winner] Lady Aurelia to one like Justify.

"It’s been very exciting to see him do all of this and also very saddening to think of what could have happened had he continued."

An important legacy

With Justify to his credit, Scat Daddy is now the unchallenged heir to the legacy of Storm Cat. His sire record is outstanding in all respects, with 101 black-type winners, or nine per cent black-type winners from foals of racing age, and 180 two-year-olds in his last crop ready to add to his ledger.

Besides Justify, his outstanding offspring are led by European champions Caravaggio, Lady Aurelia and No Nay Never, with the last named making his mark with his initial crop of two-year-olds for Coolmore; a bevy of champions in Chile resulting from shuttle duty, and the likes of Coolmore’s Mendelssohn, already a Grade 1 winner, still racing.

Dermot Ryan, the manager of Ashford, recalled Scat Daddy as “everything we look for in a future stallion".

Much missed: Scat Daddy romps in his paddock at Ashford Stud

“As well as being an incredibly good-looking, excellent moving horse, he was a top-class Grade 1-winning two-year-old, and came highly recommended by one of the best trainers in America in Todd Pletcher," he says.

"We'll always be very grateful to James Scatuorchio and his family, with whom we have always had a great relationship, for giving us the opportunity to be a part of Scat Daddy’s career.

“It was very clear from the outset that he was destined to do well. We were very impressed from the moment his first foals hit the ground, as they mirrored his traits of being imposing, stand-out physicals with outstanding walks."

Just as Justify has proven to be a composed and focused competitor, so was his sire.

“Scat Daddy was a very straightforward and uncomplicated horse to work with, something that he seems to have passed on to his progeny, who seem to be calm and composed when it comes to the big, pressure-filled race days,” Ryan observes.

With the achievements of Justify and the promise in his future stud career added to the potential of Coolmore’s No Nay Never and Caravaggio in Europe and likely future Ashford stallion Mendelssohn, Scat Daddy’s legacy “looks set to continue for years to come,” Ryan says.

Still, it is impossible to escape imagining what might have been had Scat Daddy lived a longer life.

“It was extremely unfortunate that he died at such a young age, not just for us, but the industry as a whole,” Ryan sums up.


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Scat Daddy's younger brother doing a fine job of upholding family honour

Scat Daddy was a very straightforward and uncomplicated horse to work with, something that he seems to have passed on to his progeny
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