Materiality (right) tussles for the lead with Upstart at Gulfstream ParkPICTURE: Getty Images
Materiality shines for Pletcher in Florida Derby
Report: USA, Saturday
Gulfstream Park: Florida Derby (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo
CHAMPION trainer Todd Pletcher added another string to his Kentucky Derby bow on Saturday when Materiality (John Velazquez) got the better of a thrilling battle with Upstart to take his unbeaten record to three in the $1 million Florida Derby.
Sent off a 9-5 chance for the first of this year's Grade 1 Kentucky trials, the son of Afleet Alex sat on the shoulders of front-running Jack Tripp from the outset before taking over on the far turn, where he was joined almost immediately by even-money favourite Upstart.
The pair then duelled for the remainder, Materiality edging right entering the final furlong before holding on in gritty fashion to win by a length and a half. The front two drew right away from third-placed Ami's Flatter, who was more than 12 lengths adrift.
Materiality, who stopped the clock in 1m52.3s, was having only the third start of his life, having won a maiden special weight at Gulfstream in January before scoring earlier this month at the Florida venue.
He was Pletcher's third winner of the race after Scat Daddy (2007) and Constitution (2014) and the trainer paid tribute to Materiality's achievement in belying his inexperience to win such a prestigious contest.
"You don't see it happen very often," said Pletcher. "But you don't see horses win their second start off of one six-furlong maiden win and go a mile-and-an-eighth in exceptional time so I think he stamped himself as a very legitimate horse at that point. But it takes a special one to do that."
Three winners of the the Florida Derby in the last decade - Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008) and Orb (2013) - have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
Upstart's trainer Rick Violette suggested post position had been a factor in the result, his representative having started widest of all in a nine-runner field.
"I don't want to hear from the guys that say, 'Don't worry about the nine hole,' because it made all the difference," said Violette. "If we had him on our hip the whole way, maybe the result would have been different. (Materiality) beat us fair and square. He is obviously a very nice horse, he comes off a really fast race and didn't regress."
Also on Saturday
Fair Grounds: Louisiana Derby (Grade 2) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo
Having won both main preps for this $750,000 contest, International Star (Mike Maker/Miguel Mena) duly completed the hat-trick to tee himself up for the Kentucky Derby.
Under an ugly whip-happy ride, the 23-10 favourite had to call on every ounce to overcome the tenacious Stanford by a neck, the pair four and a half clear of the third.
Fair Grounds: Fair Grounds Oaks (Grade 2) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo fillies
I'm A Chatterbox (Larry Jones/Florent Geroux) heads to the Kentucky Oaks after decisively scoring by two and a half lengths to complete a hat-trick at the Fair Grounds.
Gulfstream Park: Gulfstream Park Oaks (Grade 2) 1m½f, dirt, 3yo fillies
After being steadied in the back stretch, Birdatthewire (Dale Romans/Irad Ortiz) circled three wide from towards the rear for a game closing victory.
Gulfstream Park: Honey Fox Stakes (Grade 2) 1m, turf, 4yo+ f/m
Former British-trained fillies dominated as Lady Lara (Bill Mott/Junior Alavarado) scored by a neck over Al Shaqab's Sandiva. The winner started life with Alan Jarvis; the runner-up won last year's Nell Gwyn Stakes for Richard Fahey.