Has Florida Derby winner Materiality risen too far, too fast?

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

March 28th, 2015

Trainer Todd Pletcher’s record-tying third victory in the Florida Derby on Saturday was achieved when the lightly-raced Materiality held off even-money favorite Upstart in the $1 million, 1 1/8-mile fixture.

Materiality’s win comes just a year after Pletcher won the Florida Derby for a second time with Constitution, and the two horses are eerily similar.

Constitution entered the 2014 Florida Derby having not raced at two and with two wins from as many starts, including an allowance score over subsequent Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist.

Materiality, a son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex, also did not race at two and entered Saturday’s race undefeated in two starts by a combined margin of 10 lengths.

The latter of his two races was a 5 3/4-length romp in the $60,000 Islamorada Handicap, a course-and-distance prep, over stablemate Stanford, who flattered the form shortly before the Florida Derby by running a sharp second in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.

History records that Constitution failed to make it to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby after suffering an injury, and actually didn’t return to the races until October. There is certainly no reason to believe the same fate will befall Materiality in the next five weeks, but rising too far and too fast can have some detrimental effects.

Constitution’s swift rise somewhat paralleled Verrazano’s from the previous year. Starting his career in early 2013, the Pletcher-trained Verrazano won his first four starts, including the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial, but was considered over-the-top by the betting public on Derby Day and ran to expectations.

If Materiality bucks recent trends he figures to be a horse many will want to stand against, not least because of the so-called “Apollo Curse.” No horse has won the Kentucky Derby without having raced at two since Apollo in 1882.

Upstart, who won the Holy Bull and was disqualified from first in the Fountain of Youth earlier in the meet, ran a fine race in defeat, but had all the time in the world to get past his relatively inexperienced rival. His last two efforts, both over dull tracks, have not looked as good as his electrifying victory in the Holy Bull.

It was more than 12 lengths back to Ami’s Flatter, who likely punched his ticket to Churchill Downs if his connections choose to pursue it. However, wide margins of defeat in the Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Derby, and Florida Derby do not make him an exciting longshot prospect. As an Ontario-bred, the Queen’s Plate might be a more plausible goal.

The disappointment of the race was Pletcher’s other colt, Itsaknockout, who never reached contention and finished 21 lengths behind his stablemate. The official Fountain of Youth winner is surely better, but how much is not yet known. A son of 1999 Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, he might be better served regrouping and awaiting the 1 1/2-mile third leg of the Triple Crown.