Thursday, March 26, 2015

A look at the Field for Saturday’s Florida Derby

By Jim Freer

Wednesday, March 25 -- Upstart and Itsaknockout, coming  off a controversial one-two finish and disqualification in  the recent Fountain of Youth, will head a nine-horse field for Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby.

Gulfstream Park drew post positions Tuesday  evening for the 1 1/8 mile Grade 1 stakes for 3-year-olds.  The track’s line maker Jay Stone made Upstart  the 8-5 favorite and Itsaknockout the 2-1 second choice in  the morning line.

Upstart crossed the finish line first, by 2 ¾ lengths, over Itsaknockout  in the 1 1/16 mile Fountain of Youth  (Grade 2) on Feb. 21 at Gulfstream.  But  the stewards in an inquiry and amid a  rider’s objection declared Itsaknockout the winner and put Upstart in second place for what they determined was interference in two incidents in the stretch run.

Materiality (7-2), the recent winner of the 1 1/8 mile Islamorada  Handicap at Gulfstream, and Ami’s Flatter (8-1) who finished second in the 1 1/16 mile Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2) are the only other entrants  listed lower than 10-1 for the Florida Derby.

Upstart on Outside
Upstart will be in the nine post--the farthest outside. That is often a disadvantage in 1 1/8 mile dirt races at Gulfstream where the beginning  of the first turn  is only about 100 yards  from the starting gate.  That means a jockey and horse must get a fast start or run the risk of a wide trip or getting caught in early traffic.

"It's (No. 9) not ideal,” said Rick Violette Jr., who trains Upstart for owner Ralph Evans.

“It's a little longer run to the first turn,” Violette  said.  “You just have to deal with it. That's what the jock's up there for. You hope he breaks clean and gets a clear run. You don't have horses pressing him from the outside, but I'd like to have been inside, even one post inside."

Stone said the post positions were not a factor in setting the Florida Derby morning  line--a guide for bettors on  what he expects the post time odds will be.  Itsaknockout drew post four.

Upstart has good tactical speed, and Stone expects that jockey Jose Ortiz will get the horse off to a good break and might only be about three wide going into the first turn.

There also is a short run to the turn  in  1 1/16 mile dirt races at Gulfstream. Upstart  was in the eight post in the Fountain of Youth and in the seven post  for the Holy Bull (Grade 2) on Jan. 24.  He had clean breaks from the gate and trouble-free trips both times.
Past Performances
Upstart finished third last Nov.  1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade 1) at Santa Anita.  He began  his 2014 campaign  with  a win in the 1 1/16 mile Holy Bull.

Itsaknockout’s  win  by DQ in the Fountain of Youth gave him a three-for-three career record.  His regular rider Luis Saez will  be on board Saturday for trainer Todd  Pletcher and owner Starlight Partners.

Materiality has won  both of his career starts. He is trained by Pletcher and owned by Alto Racing.  John Velazquez will ride him for the third straight time. 

On March  6 at Gulfstream, Materiality won the 1 1/8 mile Islamorada in the fast time of 1:49.32 and earned a 100 Brisnet speed figure.

Upstart won the Holy Bull in  a solid  1:43.61 and appeared like he could continue strong  at least  through 1 1/8 miles. His Brisnet figure was 105.

On Fountain of  Youth day, overall times were relatively slow and several trainers said the track was deep. Upstart finished in1:46.28 for a 95 Brisnet figure.  

Past performances indicate that longshots  Jack Tripp and Indiananaughty could battle Materiality for the early lead.  Upstart and Itsaknockout likely will be in  a second flight, with Ami’s Flatter near the back and looking to make a late run under Gulfstream’s meet-leading  rider Javier Castellano.
On to Kentucky?
The Florida Derby is the first of seven final-round races in  qualifying  for the Kentucky Derby (Grade 1) at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on May 2.

The first four Florida Derby finishers will earn 100, 40, 20 and 10 qualifying  points, respectively. The winner and  runner up points will be enough  to make the 20-horse Kentucky  Derby field.

Latest standings show Itsaknockout in eighth place with 50 points (all from the Fountain of Youth) and Upstart ninth with 36.  Ami’s Flatter is 14th with 20 points.  None of the other Florida derby entrants have any Kentucky Derby points.

This week, Steve Haskin of Blood-Horse has Upstart fourth and Itsaknockout eighth  on his widely followed  Derby Dozen  list.  Materiality is listed high among  those “knocking on  the door.”

Haskin  rates American Pharaoh and Dortmund first and second. Both are trained by southern California-based Bob Baffert.

Carpe Diem, winner of  the Tampa Bay Derby, is third on  Haskin’s list. He is among Pletcher trainees who have spent the winter at Palm Beach Downs in Delray Beach.

The Florida Derby will be the 14th and last race on  Saturday’s Gulfstream card.  The scheduled post time is 6:48 p.m.

Post time for the first race is 12:00 p.m.  Gulfstream will have eight other stakes races. 

Florida Derby Field
Post Position Trainer Jockey Morning Line
1 - Ami's Flatter Josie Carroll Javier Castellano 8-1
2 - Jack Tripp Dale Romans Irad Ortiz Jr. 20-1
3 - Indianaughty Dale Romans Corey Lanerie 20-1
4 - Itsaknockout Todd Pletcher Luis Saez        2-1
5 - Quimet         Nick Zito         Edgard Zayas 20-1
6 - My Point Exactly Bill  Kaplan Juan  Leyva 30-1
7 - Materiality Todd Pletcher John Velazquez 7-2
8 - Dekabrist Gennadi Dorochenko Jesus Rios 30-1 
9 - Upstart        Rick  Violette Jose Ortiz           8-5
All Weights  -- 122 pounds

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