03/28/2015 7:38PM

Materiality wins Florida Derby to stay unbeaten

Barbara D. Livingston
Materiality fights off Upstart to win the Grade 1 Florida Derby on Saturday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Materiality showed the courage and heart of a veteran in only his third career start, withstanding a thrilling stretch-long challenge from the more experienced even-money favorite, Upstart, to register a well-deserved and impressive 1 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

The Florida Derby turned into a virtual match race between Materiality, who entered the Grade 1 Florida Derby unbeaten and unchallenged in two career starts, and Upstart, an easy winner of the Grade 2 Holy Bull but the victim of a controversial stewards’ decision when disqualified from first and placed second behind Materiality’s stablemate Itsaknockout in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

The race set up as expected, Jack Tripp cutting out the early pace with Materiality and Upstart in close pursuit from the outset. Materiality overtook Jack Tripp at the half-mile pole, with Upstart glued to his outer flank, moving simultaneously with the leader at that point.

Materiality, still holding a narrow advantage racing nearest the inside, and Upstart separated themselves from the rest of the field approaching the stretch while continuing to engage in a torrid battle. Upstart came in a bit under a right-handed stick from jockey Jose Ortiz near midstretch, while Materiality, with John Velazquez aboard, also came out slightly at that point, the pair appearing to brush briefly nearing the sixteenth pole.

After that, Materiality gradually edged clear, with Upstart finishing another 12 1/2 lengths clear of third-place finisher Ami’s Flatter.

:: DERBY WATCH: Top 20 from Jay Privman and Mike Watchmaker

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

Itsaknockout turned in a disappointing effort, never threatening the leaders while finishing fourth, 21 lengths behind the winner. He was followed by Dekabrist, Indianaughty, My Point Exactly, Quimet, and Jack Tripp, the field spread out more than 40 lengths from front to back at the end.

Ortiz said after the race that he attempted to claim foul against the winner for the incident that occurred at midstretch, but by the time he got to the phone to talk with the stewards, the race had already been declared official.

According to Gulfstream Park president Tim Ritvo and vice president/general manager P.J. Campo, Ortiz waited to notify the outrider of his intentions until on his way back to be unsaddled. By that time, they said the outrider had already given the stewards the “all clear” call.

Ritvo said the stewards informed him that they had already looked at the break and the run through the stretch and declared the race official.

Materiality is a son of Afleet Alex owned by Alto Racing LLC. His victory was the fourth on the day for Velazquez, three of the wins coming in graded stakes. Materiality is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has now won the Florida Derby three times, with Constitution last year and Scat Daddy in 2007.

Materiality covered the distance over a fast but deep and demanding track in 1:52.30. He paid $5.60.

“The race shaped up exactly the way Johnny and I had thought,” said Pletcher. “We assumed [Jack Tripp] might show some speed, Materiality would be in a stalking-type position, and Upstart would have us as his primary target. All of that unfolded exactly like we’d talked about.”

Pletcher said his biggest concern going into the race was Materiality coming back on just three weeks’ rest.

“He was coming back off a really big effort, so we were just monitoring how he was training,” said Pletcher. “He looked great, he’s a big strong colt, he holds his weight really well, and he put in a very good breeze a week ago, so we felt he was showing us all the right signs. Yet you still worry about those situations when they get to the eighth pole. But watching Stanford, who Materiality beat in the Islamorada, run a very big second in the Louisiana Derby about a half-hour earlier gives you a little more confidence. But you’re still concerned about the short turnaround.”

Pletcher said it’s rare to see horses win a race as prestigious as the Florida Derby in just their third start. Constitution accomplished the same feat last year but was injured before having a chance to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

“You don’t see it happen very often, but you don’t see horses win their second start off one six-furlong maiden win and then win going a mile and one-eighth in exceptional time,” Pletcher said. “It takes a special one to do that.”

Trainer Rick Violette said he felt the outside post compromised Upstart’s chances.

“I don’t want to hear, ‘Don’t worry about the 9 hole,’ because it was all the difference,” Violette said. “Believe me, he beat us fair and square; he’s obviously a nice horse. He comes off a real fast race and didn’t regress.”

– additional reporting by David Grening