03/26/2015 11:20AM

Itsaknockout, Upstart to settle things in Florida Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
Upstart (right) defeated Itsaknockout by 2 3/4 lengths in the Fountain of Youth, but was disqualified for interference.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Itsaknockout will go down in the record books as the official winner of the 2015 Fountain of Youth Stakes. But for trainer Todd Pletcher, that victory was somewhat bittersweet, coming as it did via the controversial disqualification of Upstart. Many, including Pletcher himself, thought that decision could have gone either way.

On Saturday, Pletcher and everybody else is hoping the end result will be more conclusive when Itsaknockout and Upstart square off once again in the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby.

The 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby highlights a 14-race program that includes six other graded stakes, led by the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies. First post is noon Eastern.

Upstart reached the wire 2 3/4 lengths in front of Itsaknockout in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. But the stewards found Upstart guilty of interfering with Itsaknockout near midstretch and reversed the original order of finish.

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“I don’t make any bones about it – I don’t like winning races that way, and it’s not a time to jump up and down and high five everybody when it happens,” said Pletcher. “Our horse was putting in a quality run when the incident occurred, and we’ll never know if he was ever going by Upstart or not. Hopefully, we’ll find out a lot more on Saturday.”

Win or lose, however, Pletcher was happy with Itsaknockout’s performance in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth.

“If he’d finished second that day and not been put up, I’d still have been very proud of his effort off just two previous starts,” said Pletcher, who won the Florida Derby last year with Constitution.

Rick Violette, who trains Upstart, was obviously even less pleased than Pletcher with the end result of the Fountain of Youth. But Violette said he’d rather focus on what lies ahead rather than look behind.

“We turned the page pretty quickly on what happened in the Fountain of Youth,” said Violette. “He ran his race, he was courageous, and he got there first. It cost us some money and a graded-stakes win, but you’ve got to move on. It would be just wasted energy worrying about it now.”

As good as he was in the Fountain of Youth, Upstart was even better in winning the Grade 2 Holy Bull four weeks earlier, cruising to a 5 1/2-length decision over favorite Frosted while earning a 106 Beyer Speed Figure, the best for any 3-year-old around two turns this winter.

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“He’s probably better coming into the Florida Derby than he was the Fountain of Youth,” said Violette. “I backed off and skipped a breeze, by design, before that race. I was hoping he’d win and regress off the Holy Bull, and he did. Well, he got there first, anyway. This time, I tightened the screws a little more. After all, it is a Grade 1 with a $1 million purse, and you don’t take that too lightly.”

Itsaknockout will be joined in the Florida Derby lineup by stablemate Materiality, who has won his only two starts by an average margin of five lengths, including a 1 1/8-mile overnight stakes here three weeks earlier.

“His last race was very good going a mile and one-eighth; the time was solid,” said Pletcher. “I just hope he has enough seasoning to take the next step up.”

Ami’s Flatter, the runner-up behind the Pletcher-trained Carpe Diem in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, looks best of the others. Ami’s Flatter ran well over this track when second in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on New Year’s Day and showed further improvement while adding blinkers and getting Lasix for the first time in the Tampa Bay Derby.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 1 Ami’s Flatter. Trainer Josie Carroll is 10-3-1-1 with a $4.54 ROI over the past five years in dirt routes with horses getting Lasix for the second time. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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Key contenders

Upstart (Last 3 Beyers: 95-106-92)

◗ Violette’s major concern is his post, as Upstart will break from the outside in post 9. Post 9 has yielded just a single winner from 26 starters in main-track races at 1 1/8 miles over the past five years, although the majority of those races were of the claiming and low-level allowance variety.

◗ Upstart will receive a six-pound weight shift in his advantage in the rematch with Itsaknockout.

Itsaknockout (Last 3 Beyers: 90-83-74)

◗ The final time of the Fountain of Youth was a relatively slow, 1:46.20, a result of a deep, cuppy track. “We’ve seen days where the track has been very demanding this year, and I think it bodes well for horses who finish up in those types of scenarios,” said Pletcher.

Materiality (Beyers: 104-88)

◗ He projects to be with the pace. “On paper, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of speed in the field,” said Pletcher. “It’s just going to depend on the break and how they’re going to get to the first turn.”