Trainer Rick Violette said Tuesday he expects Upstart to produce another big effort in the Besilu Stables Florida Derby, but he'll have plenty of competition for the million-dollar purse.
Upstart is of course a horse that likes Gulfstream Park, having llaunched his 2015 campaign with a 5 1/2-length triumph in the Lambholm South Holy Bull on Jan. 24. He came back to finish first by 2 3/4 lengths in the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth, only to be disqualified when the stewards ruled he interfered with second-place finisher Itsaknockout in the stretch.
“He ran a huge race first time out. He figured to bounce, regress, after that, but we thought he could do that and still win – which he did,” said Violette. “This race is supposed to be better than that race.”
Upstart will be ridden by New York-based Jose Ortiz.
The nine-furlong race will be another step in the development of a pair of Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-olds, Itsaknockout and Materiality. Both launched their careers during the current Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park.
Pletcher has a history of success with lightly raced colts in the Florida Derby, having saddled Constitution for a triumph in last year’s edition off a debut maiden win and open allowance victory at the track.
Itsaknockout and Materiality both have undefeated records. Itsaknockout was credited with his third straight victory in the Fountain of Youth. The son of Lemon Drop Kid debuted with a late-running victory by a nose at seven furlongs on Dec. 7 and pulled away to a 5 3/4-length triumph when stretched out to a mile in his second start on Jan. 4.
Materiality debuted on Jan. 11 with a 4 1/4-length victory at six furlongs before pulling away from highly regarded stablemate Stanford by 5 3/4 lengths while stretching out to 1 1/8 miles on March 6.
“To be running in the Florida Derby off three starts and two starts is fairly uncommon,” said Pletcher. “We were able to do it with Constitution last year, but it takes exceptional horses to do it, and so far these two have handled every step-up that we’ve given them.”
Luis Saez has the return mount aboard Itsaknockout, while John Velazquez will seek a third straight win aboard Materiality.
After breezing a half mile in 48.90 seconds at Palm Meadows Training Center on Monday, Ami’s Flatter was added to the Florida Derby cast. Trainer Josie Carroll had considered the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes for the son of Flatter, who finished second in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 7.
“The time-frame between this race and the Derby is better,” said Carroll. “He seems to like this surface very much.”
Carroll has acquired the services of Javier Castellano, well on his way to his fourth straight meet title, to ride Ami’s Flatter for the first time.
Trainer Dale Romans is scheduled to saddle a pair of colts for the Florida Derby: Indianaughty and Jack Tripp.
Indianaughty, who won his first two starts on synthetic surfaces in England, debuted for Romans with a late-running allowance victory over the Gulfstream Park turf course on Jan. 14. The son of Indian Charlie subsequently finished off the board in the El Camino Real Derby last time out. He's set to make his first start on dirt in the Florida Derby and will be ridden by Corey Lanerie.
Jack Tripp has finished off the board in two one-turn mile appearances at Gulfstream but scored his lone win around two turns at Keeneland last fall.
My Point Exactly (Juan Leyva), Quimet (Edgard Zayas) and Dekabrist (Jesus Rios) round out the Florida Derby field.
Post positions will be drawn at 5:00 ET Tuesday.
The Florida Derby has produced 57 winners of Triple Crown races since its inaugural running in 1952.
Edited Gulfstream Park release with additional content by Dick Downey