Big Start For Upstart, But Can He Progress?

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TwinSpires Staff

January 28th, 2015

The main focus of last weekend’s three-year-old action occurred at Gulfstream Park, where the Holy Bull, Hutcheson Stakes, and a very promising Maiden Special Weight event garnered most of the attention.

We’ll also review the California Cup Derby—a race that featured last year’s Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome—as well as the Riley Allison Stakes at Sunland, as Cinco Charlie made his two-turn debut in search of his fifth career stakes win.

Holy Bull Stakes

Upstart had a very good two-year-old season and was my selection to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on this blog last year, as you can see below.

Unfortunately, a slow break from an extreme outside post position didn’t help Upstart’s chances, as he found himself extremely wide on both turns and was unable to sustain a good middle move. The end result was losing a nose photo for second place behind the blowout last-to-first winner Texas Red.

Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes was a very promising return to the races for Upstart. He demolished the Holy Bull field by 5 1/2-lengths and earned an impressive 105 Brisnet Speed Rating in the process. As James Scully noted in his Kentucky Derby Report, Upstart raced wide throughout and traveled more than 30 feet farther than both the second and third place finishers.

It’s hard to find a knock on this son of Flatter, as he’s delivered very good performances in every start of his career. He has no red-flags from a pedigree standpoint, as his both his grandsire and damsire won the Belmont Stakes. The one concern I have is that his trainer Rick Violette Jr. has the tendency to get big efforts out of fresh horses, and his horses rarely build and improve off of them.

The best horse Rick Violette Jr. ever trained was Read The Footnotes. He made his three-year-old debut in the Fountain Of Youth winning with a 113 Beyer Speed Figure and a 109 Brisnet Speed Rating. Read The Footnotes, like Upstart was also a stellar two-year-old, but he wasn’t able to hold his form after his big return race at age three. He finished fourth in the Florida Derby as the even money favorite, and seventh behind Smarty Jones in the Kentucky Derby, in what would be his only two subsequent starts (Read the Footnotes now stands in Oklahoma for $3,500 live foal).

More recently, the Violette-trained Samraat finished fifth in last year’s Kentucky Derby and was only beaten four lengths behind Tonalist in the Belmont Stakes.

I’m of the opinion that Upstart is the true leader of this crop right now, based on the performances he’s had throughout his career. However, I’m skeptical of him being the type of horse who will continue to develop and improve over the next three months. It will be a feather in Rick Violette Jr’s cap if he’s able to buck his training tendencies, and get that improvement out of Upstart over the next four months.

Frosted was surprisingly bet down to 3-to-2 favoritism in the Holy Bull and did manage to finish second. In his previous start, Frosted ran well to overcome a wide post and finish second in the Remsen Stakes. However, the Remsen wasn’t a particularly fast race. In fact, Condo Commando dominated the Demoiselle one race earlier, in a final time that was 0.66 seconds faster than her male counterparts.

Frosted certainly has an attractive pedigree. He’s by top sire Tapit out of a very good Bill Mott-trained racemare in Fast Cookie. However, Frosted has a lot of improving to do before he can be taken seriously as a Kentucky Derby candidate. He had a better trip than Upstart in the Holy Bull, and was flat out walloped.

Holy Bull third-place finisher Bluegrass Singer offered very little resistance to Upstart and his best course of action might be in one-turn races where he’s enjoyed a lot of success. Keen Ice, who finished a non-threatening fifth, is a one-dimensional plodder who will benefit a whole lot from more pace and more distance. He’s got the potential to sweeten up some exotics if he’s lucky enough to find a real hot and contested pace in a Derby prep at nine furlongs or further.

Hutcheson Stakes

Exactly one race prior to the Hutcheson, a Maiden Special Weight event for straight three-year-olds was contested at the same seven furlong distance. Here are the comparative fractions and final time for both races:

As you can see, the Hutcheson had a faster pace than the maiden event, but was run in a significantly slower come-home time. All in all, the final time for the Maiden event was 0.76 seconds faster. When you consider these facts, it’s very hard to believe that any serious Kentucky Derby prospect competed in the Hucheson.

The Michael Tomlinson trained Barbados deserves credit for gamely prevailing as the odds-on favorite over the speedy X Y Jet, but we won’t waste any more words on this race. The more interesting race was clearly the Maiden event one race prior won by impressive debuter Khozan.

Initially a $350,000 yearling purchase at the Saratoga Select yearling sale in August 2013, Khozan was pinhooked at the Fasig Tipton Florida two-year-old sale and drilled a sales best furlong in 9.8 seconds before selling for $1-million on March 24, 2014.

You can see his brilliantly fast sales breeze video here:

A son of Distorted Humor out of the A. P. Indy mare Delta Princess, Khozan is a half sibling to the three-time Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta. This is a horse with a whole lot of distance pedigree, and he finished up powerfully to take his career debut by almost four lengths while strongly bet to 9-to-5 favortism.

According to Trakus, the second place finisher of this maiden event, Wisecracker, ran seven furlongs in 1:24.28 seconds. That is faster than the 1:24.39 final time of the Hutcheson. Not only is Khozan worthy of the hype he’s getting, but people are overlooking the fact that the Kiaran McLaughlin debuter Wisecracker ran an outstanding race to finish second. Like Khozan, Wisecracker is also a son of Distorted Humor. He is out of a talented Touch Gold mare named Abby’s Angel, who was a stakes winner for Mike Stidham.

Cal Cup Derby

This race featured Cal Breds going 1 1/16 miles, and the betting suggested it might be a two-horse race between 1-to-2 favorite Acceptance and the 7-to-2 second choice Tough Sunday. Indeed, every other horse in the field was dismissed at odds of 8-to-1 or more. Unfortunately for those who backed the two short-priced horses, they both sunk like the Titanic. Acceptance finished fourth beaten more than a dozen lengths. Tough Sunday stopped abruptly going into the far turn and finished last, beaten almost 30 lengths.

The two horses who clearly separated themselves from the rest of the field were eventual winner Mischief Clem and eventual second place finisher Pulmarack. They finished well clear of the rest, with Mischief Clem digging down and winning a stretch duel. Clearly Mischief Clem did run the best race in here, as he was involved in the early pace with the two favorites who both stopped. Pulmarack made a menacing run around the far turn, and appeared a certain winner turning for home, but he hung and was simply outgamed late.

This race produced California Chrome last year, but don’t hold your breath waiting for any such horse to come out of this year’s edition. Mischief Clem did surprise me quite a bit, but he will need to take another big step forward to compete against the best open competition in this sophomore division out West.

Riley Allison Stakes

This raced marked the two-turn debut for the talented Steve Asmussen trained sprinter Cinco Charlie, who was in search of his fifth career stakes win as the 1/5 favorite in the wagering. Breaking from the rail, Cinco Charlie immediately grabbed the lead and ran a sharp first quarter of 21.88 seconds that was largely done around the first turn. He prevailed by 8.5 lengths over a very lackluster group of opponents it what might as well have been a public workout. This son of Indian Charlie did nothing to suggest he could be a serious Kentucky Derby prospect, he didn’t even really prove he can rate on the lead as he was a bit headstrong through that snappy first quarter. I clearly don’t think this race answered any questions about Cinco Charlie and you can certainly forget about the rest of the group he beat.