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Feb 20, 2015

Upstart on verge of dominating the Florida 3-year-olds

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst

 Philadelphia, PA ( - The Fountain of Youth Stakes has seen some outstanding winners of late with Orb getting the victory in 2013, as well as triumphs by Eskendereya and Quality Road. Can Upstart join that group on Saturday?

Starting for the first time since running third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Upstart romped to a 5 1/2-length victory in the Holy Bull Stakes back on Jan. 24, defeating Frosted and seven other horses.

Those two rivals meet again at Gulfstream Park as part of an eight-horse field, which contains three more Holy Bull starters - Bluegrass Singer (third), Juan and Bina (fourth) and Frammento (sixth).

(Keen Ice, the fifth-place finisher, is running in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, also on Saturday.)

The rest of the Fountain of Youth field could prove more challenging than the Holy Bull also-rans as unbeaten Itsaknockout and recent allowance winner Gorgeous Bird look for black-type glory.

Upstart, the morning line favorite, sports three wins, a second and a third in five career starts. He was the 2-1 second choice in the Holy Bull but ran like a 1-5 shot, winning going away despite breaking from the No. 8 post in the field of nine.

This time around, the son of Flatter starts from the No. 7 post with all the speed to his inside. The pace of the Fountain of Youth should be much quicker than the Holy Bull, which went 24 2/5 for the first quarter and 48 4/5 for the half. A faster pace could make his margin of victory even larger than the 5 1/2 lengths in the Holy Bull.

Upstart's odds are more likely to be closer to even money than the 2-1 he was sent off in the Holy Bull, but the Fountain of Youth should be a much more competitive race with the additions of Gorgeous Bird and Itsaknockout

There is no denying Upstart's strengths - a tremendous turn of foot as well as being extremely tractable. Still, it is hard to wager on the ridgling as the heavy favorite.

Frosted enjoyed a perfect rail trip in the Holy Bull, sitting 2 1/2 lengths off the pace as the field went up the backstretch. He remained a few lengths behind into the stretch but had nothing through the lane, losing three more lengths at the wire.

The chestnut colt has never run a poor race, but he also does not like to win, with just one victory and four seconds in five lifetime outings. Furthermore, the best horse he has ever beaten has been the speedy Bluegrass Singer, who will be the fifth choice in the Fountain of Youth.

Gorgeous Bird ran sixth in his debut at Saratoga last summer, but bounced back with a pair of victories over the winter. The son of Unbridled's Song ran on the Holy Bull undercard, winning a one-mile event by seven lengths as the 4-1 third choice.

Gorgeous Bird may be visually impressive, but the teletimer has not been his friend. He ran his final half-mile in 51 2/5 seconds in that seven-length win, which included a 26 1/5 final quarter-mile. By contrast, Upstart ran his final half in 48 1/5 seconds later on the card and he had to go an extra sixteenth of a mile.

It appears on paper Gorgeous Bird will have to step it up a notch in order to contend for the top spot.

Itsaknockout last ran on Jan. 4, raising a ton of eyebrows with his 5 1/4- length score. In fact, the victory secured him a spot as one of the 23 single entrants in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. The March foal ran the eight furlongs in an eye-popping 1:35 seconds.

Itsaknockout was not as effective in his debut even though he crossed the wire first. The Pletcher trainee won by only a nose over Old Mountain Lane, who was beaten by 5 1/2 lengths the next time out by another Pletcher 3-year- old, J S Bach.

The time, albeit a sluggish 1:24 4/5, was actually not as bad as it seems on paper as the track was on the slow side. Later on the card, Atreides, a two- time stakes winner, ran the first seven furlongs of the one-mile Aventura Handicap in 1:24 2/5.

As for how the race shapes up, look for Bluegrass Singer and Juan and Bina to battle for the early lead with Itsaknockout, Upstart and Frosted in the second flight and Gorgeous Bird, Frammento and Danny Boy in the back of the pack. As the field hits the stretch, Upstart and Itsaknockout will have put away the early speed as well as Frosted. However, Gorgeous Bird will keep them honest inside the final furlong.

Fountain of Youth - 1) Itsaknockout 2) Upstart 3) Gorgeous Bird LS) Danny Boy


Two prominent members of the original Southwest Stakes field (J S Bach and War Story) take on International Star, the LeComte winner, and Imperia, second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

J S Bach, who broke his maiden on Jan. 17 in his second career start makes a huge jump in class and leaves his home base of Florida, where he ran and trained all winter. He also comes into the Fair Grounds with the least number of starts among the 10 entrants. Prior to his smashing victory over Old Mountain Lane, J S Bach finished second in his only other appearance - a maiden race for Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 12.

J S Bach will find himself further back early on in the Risen Star as St. Joe Bay, Tiznow R J and Hero of Humor will vie for the early lead. If the Southwest had not been postponed, he would have sat first or second, especially with the No. 1 post position. However, due to the differences between Oaklawn Park and the Fair Grounds, that might not be a bad thing.

Bluff is an intriguing candidate off his maiden win and will be much lower odds than his 12-1 morning line. He enjoyed a much better trip the last time out than he did in his first two starts, and if he is allowed to sit behind the early speed in the Risen Star, he could surprise the field.

Tiznow R J crushed Bluff in his maiden win and then ran a game third in the LeComte. He fits with these and should be around 5-1.

International Star and War Story ran 1-2, respectively, in the LeComte Stakes, but they both had far different trips. The former hugged the rail for most of the race until swinging out into the five-path inside the final furlong, wearing down the latter.

War Story got the worst of it, breaking a step slow, moving a tad early around the turn and then having to go six-wide into the stretch. He still had the lead with about a sixteenth of a mile to run before International Star flew right by. With the rider switch from James Graham to Kent Desormeaux, look for War Story to turn the tables on his nemesis.

Imperia, the morning line favorite, has not raced since November while almost the entire field has had a start in 2015. He also has raced just once on dirt where he missed by a head to El Kabeir. Despite his ability to close, which will come in handy during the long stretch at the Fair Grounds, he might be overbet based on the rider switch to Mike Smith.

Risen Star - 1) J S Bach 2) War Story 3) Tiznow R J LS) St. Joe Bay


Even though J S Bach and War Story are running in the Risen Star, Sunday's Southwest Stakes still drew a field of 11. The only addition comes in the form of Hillbilly Royalty. The unbeaten son of Langfuhr won an allowance race on Feb. 6 at Oaklawn Park defeating the likes of Distant Kingdom, Vici and Pioneerof the West.

Hillbilly Royalty won gate-to-wire by 4 1/2 lengths over Paid Admission that day, while running the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 3/5. He went the first mile in 1:38 1/5, a tick faster than Far Right when that colt won the Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 19.

As mentioned last week, the Southwest Stakes is usually won by a speed horse. In fact, six of the last seven winners were either on the lead or in the second spot after the first quarter-mile. Hillbilly Royalty, with the No. 3 post position, should get the jump on Kantune (No. 9 post) and Mr. Z, who drew the outside post in the 11-horse field.

Hillbilly Royalty's second dam is a half-sister to the 1990 Kentucky Derby winner, Unbridled, while his damsire is Aptitude, who ran second in the 2000 Kentucky Derby. Trainer Donnie Von Hemel brought Alternation and Caleb's Posse on the Derby trail in 2011, so this speedball is definitely in good hands.

Far Right was the beneficiary of Mr. Z's wayward effort in the Smarty Jones. Ridden by Mike Smith, Far Right prevailed by 1 3/4 lengths over Bayerd despite leading just one of the nine horses around the far turn. The $2,500 yearling also was assisted by a quick pace (23, 46 4/5 and 1:11 3/5) set by 52-1 shot American Sailor.

Bayerd must be respected off the second-place finish in the Smarty Jones. He has run six times with three wins, two seconds and a third, while banking over $300,000 in earnings. Expect him to sit fourth behind Hillbilly Royalty, Mr. Z and Kantune in the early portion of the race. Whether he is able to maintain that position or advance into the top three spots remains to be seen.

Mr. Z would up third in the Smarty Jones after sitting second behind American Sailor for much of the race. The son of Malibu Moon probably would have won if he had not veered out into the stretch, losing valuable ground.

Prior to the Smarty Jones, Mr. Z lost to Dortmund and Firing Line in the Los Alamitos Futurity's three-horse photo. He also finished a nose behind Ocho Ocho Ocho in the Delta Jackpot.

Bold Conquest returns to the races for the first time since running behind Carpe Diem and Mr. Z in the Breeders' Futurity back on Oct. 4. Even though he was third, he still was beaten 12 lengths, including almost six by Mr. Z. However, he finished 9 1/2 lengths ahead of Mr. Z in his prior race - the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, who is looking for back-to-back Southwest Stakes victories, has Bold Conquest working up a storm with a pair of five-furlong bullets.

Southwest - 1) Hillbilly Royalty 2) Far Right 3) Bold Conquest, LS) Kantune


1) American Pharoah - Could be 2-5 in Rebel even off the layoff

2) Dortmund - Seems to have heart of a lion after two close wins

3) Carpe Diem - Working tremendously well with two bullet works

4) Firing Line - Sunland Derby or Santa Anita Derby will be final prep

5) Upstart - Will be favored in Fountain of Youth on Feb. 21

6) Far From Over - Is he for real or was Withers a step below?

7) Ocho Ocho Ocho - Looks to be controlling speed in San Felipe

8) Lord Nelson - Not getting much respect - 41-1 in Pool 2

9) Texas Red - Two 2015 preps (one at 7-furlongs) is not ideal

10) Ocean Knight - Will have just four starts heading into Derby

11) Itsaknockout - Could move way up with Fountain of Youth win

12) Metaboss - Boasts fantastic late kick; must prove it on dirt

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