Itsaknockout won the $400,000 Besilu Fountain of Youth Saturday at Gulfstream Park. The 4-5 favorite carrying the unintentionally ironic moniker “Upstart” didn’t get knocked out but rather taken down.
Upstart powered under the wire in 1:46.28 for the 1 1/16 miles, 2 3/4 lengths in front of Itsaknockout after a hard fought stretch run that also included second favorite Frosted and long shot Frammento.
But track stewards took his number down as punishment for some contact with Itsaknockout at the sixteenth pole. The ruling, made after about 10 minutes, gave Itsaknockout the win and the 50 qualifying points that makes the horse eligible for the Kentucky Derby. Upstart has 36 points, likely easily enough for Derby eligibility.
Itsaknockout paid $12.80 to win, $5.00 to place and $4.00 to show. Upstarst paid $2.60 and $2.10. Frammento, which went off at 63-1, came in third, paying $12.80.
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Itsaknockout’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he’d expect the horse to run in the Florida Derby: “He’s three for three at Gulfstream, so I don’t think we’d want to change anything.”
Pletcher took pride in his horse’s performance in his first two-turn race and first stakes race.
A way to tell a ruling’s controversial: One of the beneficiaries said, “It was a 50-50 jump ball.”
That was Pletcher’s analysis in the winner’s circle. Itsaknockout’s owner, Jack Wolf, concurred.
“I’m watching up from up in the stands, and I think we get beat fair and square,” Wolf said. “I see the inquiry thing and I talk to [jockey Luis Saez] a bit, and he thinks they should take the horse down. They take all this time to look at it. I’m talking to Louie, I said, ‘I think 50-50 we’ve got a shot this horse gets taken down.’ Sure enough, they did.
“Mr. [Ralph] Evans is a great owner. He’s [got] a fantastic horse. Unfortunate that it’s come about this way. We had Take the Points taken down in a Grade 1 here a few years ago, and I guess [stuff] happens.”
Wolf laughed, not willing to look a gift win in the mouth. The previous race the rest of the crowd referenced was the fourth race of the day, when stewards let the winner, House Rules, stand after similar contact. And in the 12th race, stewards didn’t take down Danish Dynaformer after a double bump and run with Dreaming of Gold that looked like a replay of the Fountain of Youth.
“Earlier in the day, they let a horse stay up that was much worse than this, I thought,” Upstart trainer Rick Violette Jr. said. “The No. 3 horse [Frammento] started and pushed us out into the other horse,” Violette said. “If you watch the head on, the first time Luis Saez hits the No. 5 horse [Itsaknockout], he moves in a path toward us and bumps us. Disappointing. I really think it didn’t alter the outcome. Just the stewards did.
“The track appeared very tiring. It’s windy. It’s very dry out there. It got very laboring. Everybody was laboring home. He showed a lot of talent in the Holy Bull and [Saturday] he showed quite a bit of heart.”
Upstart crushed Frosted in January’s Holy Bull Stakes by 51/2 lengths. Frosted was expected to provide Upstart’s toughest competition Saturday. Wearing blinkers this time, he carried the early pace along with Juan and Bina.
As the horses turned for home, Upstart and Itsaknockout both made their moves outside the two leaders. Frosted actually bumped Upstart before starting a slow fade to fourth.
“He looked like he just pulled himself up,” Frosted trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “He shortened stride on his own. We don’t know if it’s from hitting him or not. Irad [Ortiz Jr., the jockey] isn’t sure, but we thought we were a winner turning for home.”
Said Upstart jockey Jose Ortiz: “The horse on the inside came out on me and I bumped [Itsaknockout] after that. I bumped him a little, but I don’t think enough to take me down.”
After the light pinballing, Upstart pulled away for the win. But ultimately it was just the first under the wire.