Upstart, Itsaknockout Clash Again in $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby
Grade 1 Triple Crown Prep Highlights Saturdayâ€™s 14-Race Program with Nine Stakes
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL â€“ Ralph M. Evansâ€™ Upstart figures to be very popular at the betting windows at Gulfstream Park Saturday when the 3-year-old son of Flatter is scheduled to make his final Triple Crown prep in the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1).
The 8-5 morning-line favoriteâ€™s biggest fan, though, will be his trainer, Rick Violette Jr., whose admiration for the New York-bred ridgling has grown steadily from his winning debut at Saratoga last summer to his first-place finish in the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) last month.
â€œHeâ€™s cocky; heâ€™s very confident, but heâ€™s not a bad boy. Heâ€™s very ride-able in the afternoon. Heâ€™ll do what the jockey asks him to do. We can be on the pace if we want to. We can make a late run and kick in,â€ said Violette, listing only a few of Upstartâ€™s virtues as a racehorse. â€œThereâ€™s no perfection, but Iâ€™d take a barn full of him.â€
The 64th running of the Florida Derby will highlight a program of eight stakes races, seven graded, and a full day of activities beginning with Breakfast at Gulfstream at 7 a.m. and a concert immediately after the races in the walking ring. There will also be a $500,000 guaranteed pool in the Late Pick 4 and a guaranteed pool in the Pick 5 of $300,000. The 20-cent Rainbow 6 currently has a carryover of $111,000.
As for the Derby favorite Upstart, he has shown himself to be a very rare talent that is not so easily duplicated. The Violette trainee will be on a quest to claim an unofficial sweep of Gulfstreamâ€™s three graded two-turn stakes for 3-year-olds in the Florida Derby, the highlight of a 14-race program with nine stakes (seven graded).
The dark bay ridgling dominated the 1 1/16-mile Lambholm South Holy Bull (G2) by 5 Â½ lengths on Jan. 24 before drawing off to prevail by 2 Â¾ lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 21. After handling a deep, tiring racetrack with a game performance in the Fountain of Youth, he was disqualified and placed second by the stewards for interference with second-place finisher and eventual winner Itsaknockout in the stretch. Violette was nevertheless impressed by Upstartâ€™s effort.
â€œHe dug very deep that day,â€ he said. â€œHe doesnâ€™t need his racetrack. Heâ€™s run on a wet racetrack and heâ€™s run on a deep, tiring racetrack and everything in between.â€
Upstart showed abundant talent right from the start, capturing a maiden race and a stakes race for New York-bred 2-year-olds at Saratoga last summer. He finished off his promising 2014 campaign with a second-place finish in the Champagne (G1) at Belmont and a troubled third in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita.
â€œWeâ€™ve had a long run with him. We realized exiting the Champagne that he was in the top of the division,â€ Violette said. â€œItâ€™s been a lot of months enjoying the journey, and he hasnâ€™t disappointed yet.â€
The journey has been considerably shorter for two of his rivals in the Florida Derby, a pair of lightly raced Todd Pletcher-trained colts whose careers were launched during the current Championship Meet at Gulfstream. The respective journeys of Starlight Racingâ€™s Itsaknockout and Alto Racingâ€™s Materiality, rated second and third in the morning line at 2-1 and 7-2, respectively, have been no less promising.
â€œWe didnâ€™t receive either horse until we got down here, so it was just a product of when they came in and the time it took to prepare them to get ready to go,â€ Pletcher said.
Itsaknockout debuted with a hard-fought victory in his seven-furlong maiden race on Dec. 7 and romped to a 5 Â¼-length score on Jan. 4 before stepping into graded-stakes company in the Fountain of Youth. The son of Lemon Drop Kid closed from off the pace to challenge Upstart in the stretch before settling for second but ultimately being declared the winner.
â€œI thought it was a courageous effort. It was his first time around two turns and first time in a stake. He was giving up some seasoning to some other horses and I thought he handled it very well,â€ Pletcher said. â€œWho knows what would have happened if he wasnâ€™t impeded a bit in the stretch? But even had he finished second and there had been no disqualification, I would have been very pleased and proud of his effort. It was a lot to ask of a horse.â€
Luis Saez has the return mount aboard Itsaknockout.
Materiality has raced only twice, capturing a six-furlong maiden test on Jan. 11 by 4 Â½ lengths before scoring a 5 Â¾-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Islamorada Handicap on March 6.
â€œItâ€™s a huge step. It was also a huge step going from a maiden race to a mile-and-an-eighth stake, which concerned us a little bit, stretching him out to a mile and an eighth, but he seemed to handle it well,â€ said Pletcher, who saddled Constitution for a victory in last yearâ€™s Florida Derby off just two lifetime starts. â€œHeâ€™s a big, robust horse and he seems to have taken the race well.â€
Hall of Famer John Velazquez has been named to ride the son of Afleet Alex.
Ivan Dalosâ€™ Amiâ€™s Flatter, who scored at first asking for trainer Josie Carroll at Woodbine in November, is winless in three starts this winter but has been competitive in his three stakes appearances. The son of Flatter finished second around one turn in the mile Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 3 before venturing to Tampa Bay Downs for a fourth-place finish in the Sam Davis (G3) and a runner-up finish behind heavily favored Carpe Diem in the Tampa Bay Derby.
â€œHe does seem to be going in the right direction. His first race at Tampa, he seemed to be a little knocked out after. His next race, he really bounced out of it well,â€ Carroll said.
Amiâ€™s Flatter, who will be ridden for the first time by reigning two-time Eclipse Award winner Javier Castellano, was equipped with blinkers for the first time in the Tampa Bay Derby.
â€œIt focused him a bit. Heâ€™s a young colt tending to not being focused all the time,â€ Carroll said. â€œI think they helped him focus on business.â€
Trainer Dale Romans is scheduled to saddle two horses for the Florida Derby, asking a career-first of each runner. Indianaughty is scheduled to make his first start on dirt after racing on synthetic surfaces and turf in his first four starts. Jack Tripp is stepping into stakes company for the first time.
Team Valor Internationalâ€™s Indianaughty began his career with a pair of victories over synthetic surfaces in England before debuting in the U.S. with a victory over turf at Gulfstream on Jan. 14. The son of Indian Charlie suffered his first loss over Golden Gate Fieldsâ€™ synthetic track on Feb. 14 in the Camino Real Derby (G3), in which he showed early speed before tiring to ninth.
â€œThey were going so slow. It wasnâ€™t where we expected to be, but we werenâ€™t going to take back,â€ Romans said. â€œIt wasnâ€™t the way he usually runs. A couple people told me that you need to have a race over that racetrack.â€
Romans is hopeful that Indianaughty will take to Gulfstreamâ€™s main-track surface under rider Corey Lanerie.
â€œHeâ€™s got the pedigree for it. Heâ€™s trained well over it,â€ he said. â€œHeâ€™s never run on it, but hopefully heâ€™ll take to it the way he trains.â€
Robert J. Baronâ€™s Jack Tripp, who finished off the board in two one-turn mile starts at Gulfstream, has one win in seven career starts, that coming in a two-turn maiden race at Keeneland last fall.
â€œIt looks like maybe heâ€™ll be the lone speed in there,â€ said Romans, who named Irad Ortiz Jr. to ride Jack Tripp. â€œWeâ€™ll let him go and see if heâ€™s good enough.â€
Trainer Nick Zito entered Quimet in search of a record fourth Florida Derby success. The gelded son of Birdstone broke his maiden at Gulfstream on Jan. 1 before finishing second behind Madeforlucky in an optional claiming allowance on Feb. 4. Lucky Shamrock Stableâ€™s gelding most recently finished fourth behind Materiality in the Islamorada.
â€œAfter he ran second in that top allowance race with that horse who finished second in the Rebel (Madefromlucky), we were very happy. That thing of Todd Pletcherâ€™s really exploded (Materiality in the Islamorada) and for some reason we didnâ€™t get the best trip in that race,â€ said Zito, who captured the Florida Derby with High Fly (2005), Ice Box (2010) and Dialed In (2011).
Trainer Bill Kaplan is scheduled to bring back My Point Exactly off a 6 Â½-month layoff to run in the Florida Derby for owners Pinnacle Racing, Robert Norman, Jack Hendricks and Roger Justice. The son of Concord Point hasnâ€™t raced since capturing the Sunday Silence Stakes on turf at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 6.
"I think Iâ€™m in tough in the Florida Derby with a couple of the horses in there, but this horse is also a stayer like East Hall. Heâ€™ll run all day, too,â€ said Kaplan, who saddled East Hall for victories in the Ohio and Indiana Derbies last season. â€œWhether he can get up with those horses, weâ€™ll have to see.â€
Juan Leyva has the return mount.
Raut LLCâ€™s Dekabrist, who launched his career at Gulfstream with a maiden victory and a Kodiak Island Stakes triumph last spring, has been winless in his next 11 starts and is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Black Gold Stakes at Fair Grounds.
â€œThis is going to be a big fight against the big fishes,â€ said Gennadi Dorochenko, who named Jesus Rios to ride the son of Street Boss.
Gulfstream Florida Derby
Upstart, Itsaknockout Clash Again in $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby