Upstart breaks outside as favorite in Florida Derby

Upstart (Flatter), the 8-5 morning line favorite for the $1 million Florida Derby (G1), has drawn post 9 in the 1 1/8-mile feature that anchors a blockbuster program at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Twice Grade 1-placed at two, Upstart was a dominating 5 1/2-length winner of the Holy Bull (G2) in his season debut, and then crossed the wire 2 3/4 lengths ahead in the Fountain of Youth (G2) last time before stewards disqualified the colt after ruling he interfered with runner-up Itsaknockout (Lemon Drop Kid) in the stretch.

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"He ran a huge race first time out. He figured to bounce, regress, after that, but we thought he could do that and still win -- which he did," trainer Rick Violette said.

Itsaknockout, who was elevated to first in the Fountain of Youth, remains undefeated from three starts, all at Gulfstream. He preceded that victory with maiden and allowance scores, both around one turn, but looked more than capable at a distance in his first two-turn attempt.

Pletcher trains Itsaknockout and Materiality (Afleet Alex), who enters the Florida Derby off two wins in as many starts. After a 4 1/4-length maiden romp going six furlongs, Materiality came back to win the nine-furlong Islamorada H. by 5 3/4 lengths earlier this month. Pletcher has experience getting lightly-raced colts into the Florida Derby winner's circle, having saddled Constitution (Tapit) last year in just his third lifetime start.

"To be running in the Florida Derby off three starts and two starts is fairly uncommon," Pletcher said. "We were able to do it with Constitution last year but it takes exceptional horses to do it, and so far these two have handled every step up that we’ve given them."

Ami's Flatter (Flatter) has placed in two of three stakes appearances this season, finishing second in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) most recently. Trainer Josie Carroll found the timing of the Florida Derby worked out better than waiting a week for the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland.

"The time-frame between this race and the (Kentucky) Derby is better," said Carroll, who saddled Ami’s Flatter for a second-place finish in the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream in January. "He seems to like this surface very much."

The remainder of the Florida Derby field are longshots Jack Tripp (Flatter), Indianaughty (Indian Charlie), Quimet (Birdstone), My Point Exactly (Concord Point), and Dekabrist (Street Boss). My Point Exactly, who broke his maiden by more than 10 lengths at Gulfstream last summer, will be making his first start since September 6 when he captured the Sunday Silence on grass at Louisiana Downs.