04/03/2007 12:00AM

Chelokee's Derby hopes in jeopardy

Bill Denver/EquiPhotos
From right, Scat Daddy beats Notional and Chelokee in Florida Derby. Chelokee's troubled third-place finish will likely keep him out of the Kentucky Derby based on earnings.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Traffic problems might cost the average person a few minutes on the road each morning. Traffic problems in the Florida Derby might have cost trainer Michael Matz the opportunity to defend Barbaro's title in the Kentucky Derby.

Chelokee, Matz's top 3-year-old prospect, finished third in Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby after being forced to take up sharply and alter course when blocked behind the tiring leaders in early stretch. Chelokee fought on gamely once he gained clearance at midstretch to finish only two lengths behind race winner Scat Daddy and less than a length out of second place, which would have all but assured him enough graded-stakes earnings to secure a spot in this year's Kentucky Derby field.

Chelokee earned $100,000 for his third-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, which has him on the outside looking in if, as expected, more than 20 horses enter the Kentucky Derby. Second place in the Florida Derby was worth $200,000.

"I don't think that will be enough to get him in the Derby, but you'll hear from him again," Matz said after the race. "Right now we're probably on the bubble, but making another start before the Derby to get additional earnings is out of the question. If we don't get into the Derby then maybe we'll try the Preakness."

Chelokee will ship to Keeneland this week.

Obviously trainer Todd Pletcher will have no problems making the Derby lineup with Scat Daddy, who followed his game Fountain of Youth victory with an even more impressive 1 1/4-length win over Notional in the Florida Derby.

"He's put two big wins back to back, and right now that makes him one of the leaders of his division - and certainly the leader of all the horses coming out of Gulfstream Park this winter," said Pletcher.

"I thought he ran great, overcoming a four-wide trip around both turns to win the Fountain of Youth, and from what I could see watching the Florida Derby from Dubai this win looked even better. We've been high on this horse from day one, but he just hasn't quite gotten the respect the others have gotten. Perhaps he finally will now."

Scat Daddy was scheduled to leave Tuesday for Keeneland, where he'll be stabled and train up to the Kentucky Derby.

Even though he had to settle for second, trainer Doug O'Neill couldn't have been happier with Notional's Florida Derby performance.

"I thought he ran dynamite," said O'Neill from his base in California on Sunday. "I think this might be one of those cases where if you run Notional against Scat Daddy 10 times they'd probably take turns beating each other they're so equally matched. On Saturday, Scat Daddy got in a little better position, and, like our horse, he also ran a dynamite race."

O'Neill said Notional will go directly from Florida to Keeneland to begin final preparations for the Kentucky Derby.

"Keeneland will be our home base leading up to the big race," said O'Neill. "The one thing I like about Notional is that he's so composed mentally. He ran his race yesterday and wasn't good enough, but I believe he can certainly improve off that."

Stormello was a "tired horse," according to trainer Bill Currin, following his fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby. Stormello, who made his second cross-country trip from Southern California in less than a month to compete in the race, set the pace for over seven furlongs before fading gradually once headed by Scat Daddy in early stretch.

"He's got to learn to slow down a little bit if he wants to go on," said Currin. "I don't think the pace really hurt him. It was slower than the Fountain of Youth. He just didn't run to his previous performance."

Stormello will return to the West Coast on Tuesday, after which Currin will make a decision about continuing on to the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Michael Gorham echoed Currin's sentiments when it came to Adore the Gold, who prompted Stormello's pace, as he did in the Fountain of Youth, before tiring to finish eighth on Saturday.

"He seemed to come back really hot and tired and just didn't run like he did the last time," said Gorham. "I'll wait a few days and see how he's doing before deciding what's next. I don't think we'd want to consider running in the Kentucky Derby off that type of performance, but there's a chance he could come back somewhere else before the Derby."

Trainer Bill Kaplan said Imawildandcrazyguy is off the Derby trail following his sixth-place finish in the Florida Derby.

"I'll probably bring him back in the Unbridled Stakes at Calder [April 28] and then point him for the Belmont, because he's the kind of horse who needs more distance," Kaplan said.

The leading contenders for the 133rd Kentucky Derby based on earnings in graded stakes races, the tiebreaker if the field exceeds the maximum 20 entries:


1Street SenseCarl Nafzger$1,332,000

2Scat DaddyTodd Pletcher1,308,500

3Circular QuayTodd Pletcher1,116,134

4Great HunterDoug O'Neill730,000

5StormelloWilliam Currin642,900

6BirdbirdisthewordKen McPeek637,000

7NotionalDoug O'Neill472,000

8Hard SpunLarry Jones360,000

9Nobiz Like ShobizBarclay Tagg328,500

10King of the RoxyTodd Pletcher280,000

11XchangerMark Shuman202,890

12CurlinSteve Asmussen180,000

13Officer Rocket (GB)Robert Holthus153,260

14Cobalt BlueDoug O'Neill150,000

15Cowtown CatTodd Pletcher137,253

16Zanjero Steve Asmussen 130,000

17KetchikanAlbert Stall120,000

18SedgefieldDarrin Miller120,000

19LiquidityDoug O'Neill116,200

20Bwana BullJerry Hollendorfer110,000

21Any Given SaturdayTodd Pletcher102,969

22ChelokeeMichael Matz100,000

23TeuflesbergJamie Sanders85,442

24FreesgoodWilliam Currin60,000

25Sam P.Todd Pletcher56,500

26Joe Got EvenPhilip Sims56,445

27DominicanDarrin Miller33,484

28Level RedDavid Hofmans30,000

29Bold StartKen McPeek30,000

30Boogie BoggsNick Zito30,000

31For You ReppoHelen Pitts25,000

32Summer DoldrumsRichard Violette21,334

33Out of GweddaTodd Pletcher16,500

34Court the KingJohn Sadler15,000

35Song of NavaroneHenry Dominguez12,180

36BoutrousCraig Dollase12,000

37Deadly DealerTodd Pletcher0

38EtudeRichard Small0

39Flying First ClassWayne Lukas0