03/29/2015 10:32AM

Road to the Derby analysis: Florida Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
Materiality wins the Florida Derby on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby, 1 1/8 miles, Gulfstream Park, March 28, 2015
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

Winner: Materiality
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: John Velazquez
Owner: Alto Racing LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 110

MATERIALITY received the highest Beyer Speed Figure earned to date in a Kentucky Derby prep by gutting out this victory over UPSTART on a tiring, demanding Gulfstream Park surface. It was an aesthetically unpleasing race, for the leaders looked like they were going up and down through a final furlong that was run in 13.73 seconds and final three furlongs in 39.79 seconds. But they drew away from their rivals over a surface that was way, way slower than par, leading to the giant figure.

I have great admiration for what both colts have done. Materiality has gone from an unstarted maiden at the beginning of the year – he made his debut Jan. 11 – to perhaps the top-ranked Derby contender in South Florida. Upstart fires every time. He won the Holy Bull, was disqualified from a win in the Fountain of Youth in a controversial decision, and ran his heart out here again.

But regarding the Kentucky Derby, I will have great reservations regarding both. For Materiality, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby without racing at 2 since 1882. While many other so-called Derby rules have gone by the wayside in recent years, most of them were complete voodoo (i.e., where a horse was bred, a quirk of geography). This, though, is the one that always has caught my attention because it is asking a lot to cram so much development – unstarted maiden to Derby winner – into less than four months.

I think a horse will pull this off one year, but it will be a good horse against a mediocre bunch. As of now, this is not that scenario; this is a shaping up as a very strong Derby field. In addition, this had to be a hard race on Materiality, who was coming back on just 22 days rest. He’ll need all of the five weeks heading into the Derby.

As for Upstart, this was the second straight time he was locked in a pitched battle over a deep, tiring surface. While he got a career-best figure of 108, I’m concerned that the demands of these last two races, combined with this career top, may cause him to regress in Kentucky.

Watching the way these two colts train leading up to the Derby will be paramount.

As for the Florida Derby itself, Materiality broke well and stalked the early leader JACK TRIPP around the first turn with Upstart to his outside. Materiality and Upstart began to separate themselves from the field heading around the far turn. Materiality was under an aggressive ride beginning three furlongs from the wire, but he never let Upstart get past him. In addition, he raced through the lane on the rail, which was well chronicled as being the worst part of the track for the past week at Gulfstream.

One other thing to remember about Materiality: He was ridden in this race by John Velazquez, but he is the regular rider for Carpe Diem, who is scheduled to have his final Derby prep in the Blue Grass on April 4. If Carpe Diem wins the Blue Grass, my instincts tell me Velazquez would stick with Carpe Diem for the Derby, so Materiality would need a new rider.

Upstart, starting from the outside post in a field of nine, raced three paths wide around the first turn while forwardly placed. He went with Materiality while leaving the others in the dust on the far turn. He raced outside Materiality the entire race but though he tried valiantly, he never got past him. He was in the better footing through the lane, too.

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

Someone had to finish third, and some 12 1/2 lengths behind Upstart came AMI’S FLATTER. He broke from the rail and remained inside for much of the first turn before being angled to the middle of the track for the run down the backstretch. He raced four paths wide on the far turn, and while he never got within the same area code of the top two, he did finish seven lengths in front of everyone else. He is an Ontario-bred and will be a formidable presence in the Queen’s Plate.

ITSAKNOCKOUT, who won the Fountain of Youth via the disqualification of Upstart, suffered the first loss of his career while finishing fourth. He raced inside horses around the first turn after an apparent initial try by jockey Luis Saez to get outside was stymied by rival riders. He was eased back down the backstretch to get outside and wound up three paths wide, inside Ami’s Flatter, heading into the far turn but could not keep up with that rival, let alone the top two.

DEKABRIST, who finished fifth, trailed into the first turn, rallied outside horses on the final turn, never was a threat, and passed tired rivals.

INDIANAUGHTY, who was sixth, had to check behind rivals going into the first turn and was shuffled back to eighth. He was guided down to the rail down the backstretch, went around a couple of stragglers on the far turn, then was guided back down to the rail while never making an impact.

MY POINT EXACTLY, who finished seventh, raced four paths wide around the first turn while about four or five lengths behind the leaders, was in a good, stalking position heading into the far turn, but saw the effects of not having raced since September and having to compete over an exhausting surface take their toll.

QUIMET, who was eighth, raced between horses while three paths wide on the first turn, went down toward the rail down the backstretch, and was fifth entering the final turn but steadily faded.

Jack Tripp wound up last of nine after leading the top two during the early part of the race, but his Warhol moment ended by the time the field reached the far turn, and he retreated.