09/02/2006 12:00AM

Pletcher stars meet in Hopeful


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Eventually, Todd Pletcher was going to have to run some of his better 2-year-olds against each other. The first of what could be an intriguing in-barn rivalry takes place Monday, when the Pletcher-trained duo of meet in the Grade 1, $250,000 Hopeful Stakes on closing day at Saratoga.

Scat Daddy and Circular Quay are both 2 for 2, each coming off a graded stakes win. Because Pletcher owns 25 percent of Scat Daddy, the two horses will be coupled in the wagering. With only three other horses in the field - thus a total of four betting interests - the Hopeful will be run as the fourth race on the 10-race card, which also includes the $100,000 Glens Falls Handicap. There will be no show or trifecta wagering on the Hopeful.

Both Scat Daddy and Circular Quay come off improbable victories. Scat Daddy, a son of Johannesburg, was 2 1/2 lengths behind a loose-on-the-lead Teuflesberg at the eighth pole of the Grade 2 Sanford. Somehow, Scat Daddy found something in reserve and was able to get up by a neck.

"The horse had a bulls-eye on his back and everybody was trying to ride against him, and he got stuck in a spot that he had never been before and he was a little bit green," Pletcher said. "From an experience standpoint, it was a blessing that he got a lot of experience and was still able to win."

Scat Daddy was all dappled out Saturday morning as he was being led from Pletcher's barn to the paddock for a schooling session. Scat Daddy will break from the rail under John Velazquez.

Circular Quay, a son of Thunder Gulch, won a maiden race by 6 1/4 lengths at Churchill Downs on

June 15 and then came back to rally from well off the pace to win the Grade 3 Bashford Manor on July 8 by 1 1/4 lengths.

"I didn't think at any point he was going to get there until he did duck down to the inside," Pletcher said. "He may have been lugging in a touch, but I think it was a combination of having no other place to go and him pulling Bejarano down in there."

Circular Quay's closing style may be very effective in a Hopeful field that seems to have plenty of speed.

"I think the race sets up really well for him," Pletcher said. "There's plenty of speed. Stretching out to seven-eighths is something he'll appreciate."

The other three horses in the field all have a shot to upset the Pletcher duo.

D. Wayne Lukas, a five-time Hopeful winner, sends out Pegasus Wind, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus who will break from the outside. Pegasus Wind made his debut in the Bashford Manor, where he finished fifth, only 3 1/2 lengths behind Circular Quay. He came back to win a maiden race by seven lengths in gate-to-wire fashion here July 29.

Asked if Pegasus Wind is better on the lead, Lukas said: "He's versatile enough. He can do pretty much what he wants. He's a damn good horse mentally. He does things right, he doesn't make many mistakes."

Trainer Bernie Flint said he believes Unbridled Express may be the best horse he's trained in his 40-plus year career. He showed excellent speed winning a maiden race July 9 by four lengths. He was forced to skip the Saratoga Special in mid-August when he scoped with mucus following a workout, but things have gone well for him since. Edgar Prado has the call.

"Mrs. Dempsey had nine sons and only one Jack," Flint said, referring to the boxing legend. "This horse is a super horse. He's got everything we always hoped for. I'm hoping he's Jack. I might be wrong, I've been wrong before, but he's going to let them know he's there."

Nick Zito won six juvenile races with first-time starters at this meet, including one with Irish Ace, who makes his second start in the Hopeful.

"I usually like to go a little slower, but this is a [son of] Grand Slam that was a precocious type, whose style was to go first time out," Zito said.