March 27, 2015

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) Upstart and Itsaknockout have almost certainly done enough to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

By no means does that make the Florida Derby insignificant to either side.

The last time these top 3-year-olds met was in the Fountain of Youth last month, when Upstart finished ahead of everyone else - only to be placed second behind Itsaknockout after a hotly debated ruling by stewards who decided Upstart impeded his opponent's path.

The rematch comes Saturday in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, where Upstart and Itsaknockout will lead an expected field of nine. Both are virtually guaranteed spots in the Kentucky Derby based on point totals from past races, but the $600,000 winners' share on the line in this one isn't a small matter either.

Upstart was made the early favorite at 8-5, just ahead of Itsaknockout at 2-1.

''He's coming up to the race great,'' said Rick Violette, Upstart's trainer. ''He actually recovered quite well from the Fountain of Youth. That was a pretty tiring racetrack and he bounced back pretty quickly and he hasn't had a hair out of place sense. ... Trainers are tempted to tweak things, but there's nothing to tweak.''

One issue for Upstart is that he's starting on the outside of the field, meaning a good start will be crucial in the 1 1-8 mile race. The field will start entering the first of two turns about 11 seconds after the gate opens.

''It's certainly the last choice,'' Violette said of starting in the 9 post. ''It's not ideal. It's a little bit longer run to the first turn. He's a good horse and we'll let him handle it.''

Upstart blazed his way to a romp at Gulfstream in the Holy Bull, then looked comfortable again in the Fountain of Youth over the same surface. It will be only the fourth start for Itsaknockout, all at Gulfstream, all with trainer Todd Pletcher adding a bit of distance to the workload every time.

And in every start to date, Itsaknockout's speed numbers have gotten better.

''He's trained really well,'' Pletcher said. ''He's a very consistent colt, he's very easy to train. He's one of those horses that does whatever you ask. You'd never know he's in the barn.''

Pletcher, who is on pace to have at least three and possibly more starters in the Kentucky Derby, said he likes the way this race sets up for Itsaknockout.

''It doesn't look on paper like this race has a ton of front-runners,'' Pletcher said. ''I think he's the type of colt that's adaptable to kind of any running style, but we'd envision him probably not being too far off of it if the pace is soft.''

Pletcher has a second entrant in the Florida Derby, with Materiality running out of the second post.

''I think they're both colts that should establish a forward position in the first turn and hopefully stay out of trouble,'' Pletcher said.

The field, from the rail out: Ami's Flatter, Jack Tripp, Indianaughty, Itsaknockout, Quimet, My Point Exactly, Materiality, Dekabrist and Upstart.

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