01/07/2015 3:27PM

Upstart almost ready to hit the Derby trail

Nikki Sherman
Upstart after finishing third under Jose Ortiz in the BC Juvenile. The Jan. 24 Holy Bull is a possible return spot.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – For a horse who finished second in the Champagne Stakes and was beaten a nose for second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Upstart may be flying a bit under the radar as he prepares for his 3-year-old campaign, which will begin here later this winter. But the man who knows the horse best, trainer Rick Violette, couldn’t be more bullish on the New York-bred Upstart, who worked four furlongs in 49.10 seconds at Palm Meadows on Tuesday.

“He worked a half in 49, did it in hand, galloped out great, and was on fire today, he was feeling so good,” said Violette, who will shuttle between New York and south Florida this winter.

Violette said he is hoping to run Upstart in the Holy Bull Stakes here Jan. 24, but that “things would have to go perfectly between now and then to do that.”

“This was only his second half-mile work since he got down here,” Violette said. “If we make the race, wonderful. If not, we’ll have to see from there where to go. I would like to get three races into him before the [Kentucky] Derby.”

Violette said Upstart’s last two races, his second to Daredevil in the Champagne and his third in the Breeders’ Cup, might be even better than they seem on paper.

“He was second-best in the Champagne,” said Violette. “We ran into a horse who obviously loved the wet track that day. He didn’t run him down, but he beat some nice horses in that race.”

Upstart broke from the outside post in a field of 11 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Violette thought the wide post cost the colt second place.

“I think he definitely moved out of the ‘just a nice New York-bred’ category into the ranks of the ‘really nice 3-year-olds’ and certainly has license to improve this year and become a very, very good horse,” he said.

Violette is hoping to reach the Kentucky Derby for the second straight year, having finished fifth with Samraat last year. Samraat, who has not raced since finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes, also is training this winter at Palm Meadows but is not close to a start.

The winner of the Withers and Gotham stakes last year, Samraat has recovered from a stress fracture of a cannon bone that ended his season, Violette said, and has been galloping. Violette called Samraat’s return a “slow, measured project.”

“I don’t want to tease myself with a target right now,” he said. “But it is very encouraging to me that last year’s 3-year-old crop turned out to be so spectacular. He was certainly among the elite during the first half of the season, and he’s supposed to get better this year.”

The Violette-trained Effie Trinket has had five works since shipping to Palm Meadows in November and will make her 2015 debut in the Sunshine Millions Distaff here Jan. 17. The race, which in the past was open only to Florida-breds, was opened up to New York-, Pennsylvania- and Maryland-breds this winter.