The bad news is that Upstart has only one win in five graded stakes races and three wins in seven career starts. The good news, though, is that he has never run a bad race and has never finished worse than third while running in tough races against good horses. At the very least, then, this is a horse worth paying attention to when looking to bet exotics on the first Saturday in May. According to oddsmakers, he is the seventh choice to win the race at just +1400, so they have the same respect for the consistency of this horse that I do.
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I'm admittedly a bit of a horse racing geek, and that's an understatement. Whenever I hear this horse's name I think of Upset, the only horse ever to beat the great Man o' War. Legend has it that that is where the meaning of upset as we know it in the sports world today comes from. A win in the Kentucky Derby for Upstart wouldn't be quite as shocking as that win by Upset was, but with potentially great horses like Dortmund, American Pharoah and Carpe Diem in this field, it would still require a whole lot of luck and the very best race this horse has in him.
Florida Derby: There is never such a thing as a good loss. You want a horse to win a big race. In losing this race, though, Upstart was nonetheless pretty impressive. He pushed the early pace without tiring. Around the final turn he pressed eventual winner Materiality and dueled with him down the stretch. It was a game effort, and at one point Upstart looked to have the edge. Eventually, though, Materiality proved the better and won by a length and a half. Impressively, though, Upstart was well over 12 lengths clear of the third-place finisher.
The biggest concern of the race, though, was the track surface. The track maintenance crew had a very bad day, and the dirt was deep and heavy - much more than it should have been. Given that, we have to be concerned of two things. Did the rough going take too much out of the horses? More significantly, at least from a handicapping perspective, did the track flatter the top two horses because they were able to handle the bizarre and crippling surface better than the rest? If they could run better than that surface than the best then they might not look as good on what is likely to be a much fairer track on Derby day.
Prior experience: There is a lot to like here. He started his career with two nice wins at Saratoga last summer. Next he ran in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont, which is one of the most prestigious races of the year for two year olds. He was strong second. From there he crossed the country to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and wound up a very respectable third. He had a brief layoff before heading to Gulfstream in late January to start his run to the Triple Crown. He won the Holy Bull to kick things off. He also technically won the Fountain of Youth but was disqualified and placed second for drifting into second-place finisher Itsaknockout down the stretch. Then came the Florida Derby. It's about as good of a collection of races as a horse can have without having a bunch of wins. I like the experience he has had, the adversity he has faced, and the quality of horses he has faced. He will not be among my top tier of contenders - the field is too strong this year for that - but he is certainly a factor.
Trainer: Rick Violette, Jr. has been a very successful trainer, with hundreds of wins - many in his home base of New York - and countless graded stakes wins. Despite a career that has stretched for decades, though, he has had just two Kentucky Derby starters, In 2004 he finished seventh with Read the Footnotes. A decade later, Samraat finished fifth last year. I liked both of his past horses but wouldn't have a problem with suggesting that this is the best horse he has brought to Kentucky.
Jockey: Jose Ortiz has been on this horse, and it's hard to imagine that he won't be there again. The young rider made his debut in the Derby last year with Violette aboard Samraat. Ortiz and Violette have a lot of trust in each other, and Ortiz has suited this horse. He is having an exceptional year - he currently sits third in the country in earnings - so he is an asset in this saddle.
Breeding: Upstart is a son of Flatter. That stud is also represented this year by Ami's Flatter, the third-place finisher in the Florida Derby. His most successful son is Flat out, the two-time winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup at the Derby distance of a mile and a quarter. Flatter is far from the most productive stallion that will be represented in the Derby, but at least there is some stamina - as a son of A.P. Indy and therefore a grandson of Seattle Slew, Flatter comes by that stamina honestly. Upstart's damsire is Touch Gold. He won the 1997 Belmont, so again stamina isn't a concern here.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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