Saturday Stakes Preview: Will Upstart return to his best form in The Florida Derby?

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>Go to the PPs for the Florida Derby/ Post Time: 6:48 PM EDT

With its fat $1 million purse and coveted Grade 1 status, the Florida Derby is certainly a race worth winning in its own right. But its intended purpose is to be a stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby 35 days hence. It’s a prep. As such, it also offers up 170 Derby points, to be divided among the first four finishers (100-40-20-10).

This year’s running will close out a marathon 14-race card at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. It has drawn a field of nine. They will travel 9 furlongs, around two
turns, on the main track.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 9.24.11 AMOur Pace Projector for the Florida Derby favors neither frontrunners nor closers, and it indicates that the longshot #2 Jack Tripp will be cutting the early pace. He will be closely tracked by ML favorite #9 Upstart, who will be just ahead of #4 Itsaknockout, the close second-choice on the line. Third choice #7 Materiality will fall in just behind those two, and to his inside will be #1 Ami’s Flatter, who is the only other entrant pegged at less than 10/1 on the ML.

>Watch a Video On How to Use Pace Projector

Here’s the field for the Florida Derby, in post position order:

#1 is Ami’s Flatter. Like ML favorite Upstart, he is by Flatter and from a dam sired by a Belmont Stakes winner. He got off to a late start, debuting in November of his 2yo year, but we like that he has improved his TFUS Speed Figures from start to start to this point (84-88-91-95). He put up that new career top while finishing 2nd in the Tampa Bay Derby three weeks ago with the addition of blinkers and lasix. Still, he was no match for the talented Carpe Diem in that spot, and he is likely to have to improve again in order to win this race. We aren’t so sure he is going to be suited by taking on more distance in this race, but he has a good post on the inside and switches to a rider who knows how to take advantage of favorable circumstances.

#2 is Jack Tripp. He projects to be on the early lead in this race, but we aren’t so sure that will be to his advantage, as it ensures that he will have to race, among others, Upstart at some point. He does already own a front-running win around two turns, but he got away unchallenged in that spot, and his TFUS Speed Figure top of 85 simply won’t do in the Florida Derby.

#3 is Indianaughty. Team Valor-owned colt has never raced on dirt, but he sports a pedigree that suggests he may be able to adapt (Breeding Rating of 96 for dirt). He will be making his third start as a 3yo, and third off the layoff, while looking to take the requisite step forward in what will be his toughest test to date. He tried going to the lead in the El Camino Real last time, but he took on early pressure and did not have enough at crunch time. We liked his late-running win over turf prior to that quite a bit more, and we think his best chance to snag a big piece of this race would be to take back early and try to make one late run. If nothing else, he is one to follow back on grass down the line.

#4 is Itsaknockout. First of the Pletcher duo enters here 3-for-3 after being placed first at the expense of Upstart in the Fountain of Youth. Whether you thought that DQ was justified or not, there is no denying that this horse took a pretty big step forward in the FoY. He earned a new top figure of 99 for that effort, and it was encouraging to see him take a real run at Upstart in the stretch of that race. Perhaps he is a 3yo who is really heading the right way, and perhaps he will take another step forward today, but, to us, he had his chance to beat Upstart on the square last time, and, incident in the stretch or not, we didn’t think he was going to do it. The way we see it, he is an undefeated conqueror of Upstart on paper only, and it is his stablemate who poses the biggest obstacle to that rival today.

#5 is Quimet. He is trained by a man who knows a thing or two about developing young horses through the prep season, but this horse shows just 1 win from 5 career starts, and his career top speed figure is 79. Having a hard time envisioning him making up the 16+ lengths he has to find vs. Materiality, let alone whatever it is he has to gain on a horse like Upstart.

#6 is My Point Exactly. Stakes-winning 2yo makes his 3yo debut in the toughest of spots and has much improving to do.

#7 is Materiality. It’s going to be interesting to see what becomes of this horse, whether he breaks through in this race or not. He needs to improve from a speed figure standpoint in order to be a factor in this race, but he seems a cinch to come forward at some point. In winning his first two starts over this track for Pletcher, one sprint and one route, he looks very much like not only his stablemate in this race, Itsaknockout, but also Pletcher’s Florida Derby winner from last year, Constitution. Constitution won a sprint vs. maidens and a route vs. allowance/optional claiming company before heading straight to the 2014 Florida Derby, where he earned a new top figure to go 3-for-3. Materiality is a half-brother to the talented My Miss Sophia, who also improved in her 3rd career start for Pletcher, to win the Grade 2 Gazelle last year, and she would go on to run a big 2nd in the Kentucky Oaks in her very next start, with a TFUS Speed Figure of 110. Materiality has the pedigree and the connections, he has the looks, and he has been impressive in posting a pair of convincing wins to begin his career. Taking on a seasoned pro like Upstart in a race like this is a tall order, but if anyone is going to defeat that horse on Saturday, we think this is the guy.

#8 is Dekabrist. He began his career with back-to-back fast wins going short, but it has been all downhill from there, and he enters the Florida Derby long exposed vs. this kind of competition, and on an 11-race losing streak.

#9 is Upstart. An accomplished 2yo with a pair of Grade 1 placings, he has taken the expected step forward so far at 3. He was impressive in his 3yo debut over this track, sitting a perfect trip tracking up on the pace, and then finishing off the Grade 2 Holy Bull late en route to a new top figure of 107. It was somewhat disconcerting to find him working hard to fight off Itsaknockout in the stretch of the Fountain of Youth, though that pace was pretty solid, and Upstart did have to dispose of a talented rival in Frosted up there before taking on that late challenge. Ultimately, he was able to find enough to turn away Itsaknockout late, before being DQ’d for interference on a questionable call. We were looking for Upstart to continue going forward last time, which he clearly did not do. Still, he may have run a bit better than it looks, and he is a clear horse to beat in this race, whether he improves further or not.

The Play: We like what we’ve seen from #7 Materiality early on and think he holds the most upside in this race. If we are right in thinking that he has the potential to turn out to be a top 3yo, Saturday is the day to bet on him.

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