Last seen finishing a bold third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 1 following a rough trip, Ralph M. Evans’ New York-bred Upstart, a ridgling son of Flatter, returned to the races on Saturday bigger, stronger and evidently even more dangerous as a 3-year-old, as he dominated the field of the Grade 2, $400,000 Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Upstart came into the 1 1/16-mile contest for Kentucky Derby-minded sophomores after putting in a strong six-furlong move in 1:12 on January 18 at Palm Meadows that told his conditioner Rick Violette he was ready to roll after his 84 day break. Bet down to 2-1 second choice at post time behind well-regarded 3-2 Godolphin runner Frosted, Upstart was reunited with regular rider Jose Ortiz.
Though forwardly placed from post eight (of nine) after the break, Upstart was still hung three-wide through the first turn, as he tracked Bluegrass Singer and First Down through a moderate first quarter mile in 24.52 half in 48.82. After First Down weakened, Upstart drew even with Bluegrass Singer and gained the lead through the turn, entering the lane in full control.
With no further challenge forthcoming from the field and full of run, Upstart drew off confidently in the stretch to a 5 1/2-length victory. Frosted, who was bumped at the break and raced in fourth, finished well to get second while Bluegrass Singer held for third. After six furlongs in 1:12.49 and a mile in 1:37.06, the final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:43.61. According to Trakus statistics, Upstart covered a good deal more ground than the other contenders: 34 feet more than Frosted and 39 feet more than Bluegrass Singer. [HRTV VIDEO]
Jose Ortiz reported that all went according to plan. “The horse broke very well and I was in the position where me and Rick [Violette] planned to be. It was perfect. By the half-mile pole, I let him go and said, ‘Let’s see what we have here,’ and when we turned for home we rolled.”
Continued Ortiz, “He was very good. He jumped into the bit, and I knew he was ready. I want to congratulate Rick and the owner. Rick did a tremendous job and I want to thank them for giving me the opportunity to ride this amazing horse. When I saw him today in the paddock, I was very surprised because he looked so much bigger and so much stronger. I think he wants to go a mile and a quarter, so we will hopefully make the Kentucky Derby with him.”
With the victory in the Holy Bull, Upstart moved into third place in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points standings with 16, behind tied El Kabeir and New York-bred International Star, who are tied with 21 points.
Violette’s first reaction was, “I thought it (the pace) would be much quicker. [But,] one speed scratched and Kiaran [McLaughlin]’s horse [Frosted] was between a rock and a hard place (from the rail). They were coming off the bench, too. When they went 24 (seconds for the first quarter), I said, ‘We’re in a good spot.’ When they went 48, I said, ‘We’re in exactly the right spot.’ You couldn’t have asked for a better ride.”
Violette, who took gutsy New York-bred Samraat all the way to the Kentucky Derby last year, also has a pretty clear game plan in mind for this promising youngster.
He commented, “I hope it wasn’t too fast. That’s one of the advantages of running today – you have two weeks to play with. We can go up to the Gotham (March 7 at Aqueduct) or we can come back here in four weeks in the Fountain of Youth (G2, Feb. 21). There is a cushion there if we came off the bench a little strong. We got some points today. If we ran in the Withers (Feb. 7 at Aqueduct) we would have been locked in to four weeks, four weeks, four weeks and there is no wiggle room. So this is a good spot.
Violette continued, “We’ll see how he bounces off this and follow his lead. It could be that we’ll stay here (for the Grade 1 $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby on March 28) to give us the extra two weeks going into the (Kentucky) Derby. That might be the thing to do. It’s nice to have that option.”
Upstart won his 5 1/2-furlong Saratoga debut from off the pace by open lengths on August 15 and followed up just nine days later with a victory when supplemented to the Funny Cide stakes for New York-breds. He finished a wide-trip second to Daredevil in the slop in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont on October 4, for which he earned four Kentucky Derby qualifying points before shipping out west to run third in the Breeders’ Cup (two points). From his three wins, a second and third in five starts, Upstart has earned $701,880.
Bred by Mrs. Gerald A. Nielsen and foaled at her Sunnyfield Farm in Bedford, Upstart is the first winner for his dam Party Silks, an unraced daughter of Touch Gold also bred by Mrs. Nielsen. His second dam Intend to Win (Housebuster) is a stakes-placed Kentucky-bred purchased by Gerald Nielsen for $120,000 at the 2001 Keeneland November sale.
Upstart was purchased by Evans on Violette’s advice at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton New York-bred yearling sale from the Summerfield consignment for $130,000. Violette said last summer at Saratoga, “He just had a great shoulder, really well-balanced. He looked like he was going to be a decent size, and he’s actually gotten bigger than we anticipated. He was pretty correct, he had a decent family. As they say ‘he checked all the boxes,’ which he did.”