02/21/2015 8:05PM

Itsaknockout wins Fountain of Youth by disqualification

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Barbara D. Livingston
Itsaknockout (left) challenges Upstart (No. 7) in the stretch of the Fountain of Youth Stakes.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Todd Pletcher called it “a jump ball.” And he won. Rick Violette Jr. was less hospitable. “That’s a terrible call,” he said.

Both trainers were reacting on the track to a decision announced just seconds before by track announcer Larry Collmus, that stewards had disqualified the Violette-trained Upstart for interference, placing Pletcher’s Itsaknockout first, after an extremely odd running of the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Upstart crossed the wire first, but he drifted out in deep stretch. Itsaknockout finished second after being bumped, but it was debatable whether he had lost his punch when the incident occurred. The stewards ruled that the incident impacted the placings and put Itsaknockout first, allowing him to keep his record unbeaten after three starts.

The first two didn’t even look as though they had a chance a quarter-mile out. Frosted had breezed to the front and seemed to be in control, going easily. But he fell apart badly late, and three horses went past him, with all of them appearing to struggle with the surface.

It took Upstart 1:46.28 to complete 1 1/16 miles on a track rated “fast.” It was the first dirt race in nearly two hours. A pair of grass races had been run in the interim. The final sixteenth of a mile took 7.30 seconds, the final five-sixteenths 35.13 seconds.

Upstart, the 9-10 favorite, crossed the wire 2 3/4 lengths in front. Itsaknockout was second by 1 3/4 lengths over Frammento, who closed from last in the eight-horse field to finish third, a neck in front of Frosted. Gorgeous Bird was fifth and was followed by Bluegrass Singer, Juan and Bina, and Danny Boy.

Among the many reasons the disqualification is so pivotal is that the Fountain of Youth  is worth 50 points for first, and 20 for second, under the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the May 2 Kentucky Derby. Oh, and it’s not an insignificant amount of purse money, too – $240,560 for first, $77,600 for second.

Itsaknockout ($12.80) was making his first start around two turns, and his stakes debut, after winning against maidens going seven furlongs and in a first-level allowance in a one-turn mile, both at Gulfstream.

“It was an impressive effort for his third start, first time going two turns,” Pletcher said. “He was in a bit of a spot between horses, but once he got out, he was OK.”

Pletcher said he “felt bad for the connections of the other horse.”

Luis Saez, who rode Itsaknockout, called it “a tough decision.”

“The other horse came out and bothered me,” Saez said. “I couldn’t ride my horse.”

Violette opined that Upstart moved out because he was hit in his hind end, forcing him to his right.

“They,” he said, referring to the stewards, “have to understand that when the horse gets hit behind the girth, the only place the horse can go is to the right. It’s disappointing.”

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Derby profiles Upstart was on his toes in the paddock before the race, seemingly on edge to run another corker like he did last month in the Holy Bull Stakes. But he came under a heavy ride from jockey Jose Ortiz with three furlongs to go and kind of trudged home.

Itsaknockout, a son of Lemon Drop Kid, is owned by the Starlight Racing partnership headed by Jack Wolf and Don Lucarelli. Pletcher said Itsaknockout would come back in next month’s Florida Derby here.

“There’s no need to change anything,” Pletcher said.

Violette initially had earmarked the Florida Derby as a final prep for Upstart. But he said he might instead go to the Wood Memorial one week later at Aqueduct.

Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Frosted, said he thought his colt “just pulled himself up.”

“He shortened stride on his own. We don’t know if it’s from hitting him or what. Irad’s not sure,” McLaughlin said, referring to jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. “We thought we were a winner turning for home. He seemed to come back OK. He just pulled himself up turning for home. I think the blinkers helped for the most part, but not the last quarter. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board.”

His performance will be one of many, both human and equine, widely scrutinized after this race.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch