A day after winning the $400,000 Lambholm South Holy Bull (G2) in tremendous fashion, Upstart, now a prime contender on the Triple Crown Trail, could be found contentedly grazing across from his stall at trainer Rick Violette Jr.'s barn at Palm Meadows.
“He's doing great,” Violette said as the colt looked up from the grass, eyes bright, to inquire for a mint in his handler's coat pockets.
The son of Flatter's request was met, of course, and deservingly so, after he smoked a field of talented sophomores to take the Holy Bull in his 3-year-old debut, running off with the race by 5 ½ lengths under Jose Ortiz and earning a 105 Beyer. Violette said he expected his trainee to run a good race, but he did not necessarily expect him to draw off in that fashion.
“Dominating, no, but we were pretty confident that he was going to run well,” Violette said. “You just hope that the talent he showed as a 2-year-old transfers into a good 3-year-old, and a lot of horses don't. They're a little more precocious, a little more mature as a 2-year-old, and sometimes that's their best stuff. You hope to see the graduation, and I think we saw it.”
Violette added that Upstart, who finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) in his final start at two, did a lot of things in the Holy Bull that impressed him, especially when breaking from the eight-post in a field of nine.
“[He had] enough speed to get good positioning from a post position that didn't make that automatic,” he said. “He settled well, when he was called on, he answered, and he kind of took care of business. They need to leave horses at some point, and he kind of did that yesterday. All of that – he traveled well down there, he was good in the paddock – he did a lot of good things yesterday.”
Violette also credited Ortiz for a skillful ride.
“Jose ran a terrific race, because the pace was not fast,” he said. “If we had been farther back, we still could have maybe gotten the job done, but it would've been more difficult. The one horse (Bluegrass Singer) would have been loose on the lead at that point going a half in almost 49 (seconds), and he could have been very tough if he'd been left alone.”
Now that Upstart has 16 points toward a potential berth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Violette is left with many options for the colt's next start. His road to the Run for the Roses will run either through South Florida or New York.
“We'll play it by ear,” Violette said. “We could do the Fountain of Youth (G2, at Gulfstream on Feb. 21). If we need a couple more weeks, we could wait for the Gotham (G3, at Aqueduct on March 7). We have a two-week cushion and at some point we'll get to use it. Whether we go the whole route here (at Gulfstream) and go Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby (G1, on March 28) to give us a little extra time to get to the Kentucky Derby or if we need it before then and he stubs his toe or doesn't eat, we can back off and do either the Gotham or the Wood Memorial (G1, at Aqueduct on April 4). We have some flexibility, which is really nice.”
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