The “OFFICIAL” light flashed a bright crimson on the tote board at Gulfstream Park shortly after Materiality crossed the finish line first in the $1 million Florida Derby.
As the victor was being guided into the winner’s circle and bettors were either cashing tickets or chucking them, jockey Jose Ortiz — who had been aboard second-place finisher and even-money favorite Upstart — was stewing.
Ortiz said he tried to file a claim of foul on Materiality for a brushing incident in midstretch. But the complaint was never relayed to track stewards and the result stood without further review.
“I don’t understand,” Ortiz said.
Upstart trainer Rick Violette Jr. was more vehement.
“Their [stewards’] incompetency now is multiplied I don’t know how many times,” Violette said. “It’s outrageous.”
Violette was angry after stewards disqualified Upstart from first to second for a bumping infraction in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in February. He was just as irate — if not more so — that Ortiz’s foul claim wasn’t heard Saturday.
Whether Materiality actually interfered with Upstart wasn’t the question, Violette said. It was the mere fact that his jockey’s objection wasn’t registered and reviewed.
“It doesn’t matter if it was warranted or unwarranted,” Violette said.
Indeed, whatever contact occurred between the two horses with about an eighth of of a mile to the finish appeared incidental and nothing that would have changed the outcome.
Materiality drew away late to prevail by 11/2 lengths and paid $5.60 to win. It was another 121/2 lengths back to third-place finisher Ami’s Flatter.
“There was a little brush maybe,” winning jockey John Velazquez said. “But I never really hit him.”
Track steward Don Brumfield said stewards never received Ortiz’s objection claim and, furthermore, he felt no foul was committed.
“I didn’t see anything,” Brumfield said.
Track officials said Ortiz waited too long to make his objection, after stewards had received the “all-clear” call from outriders, who are in contact with the judges’ booth.
“Nobody called us,” Brumfield said. “No one called the stewards.”
And so that was how the 64th Florida Derby ended. In dispute.
But what wasn’t left in dispute was Materiality’s sudden materialization as a leading contender for the May2 Kentucky Derby.
The horse punched his ticket for Louisville with Saturday’s victory, even though it comes with questions. Materiality did not race as a 2-year-old, and the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby without doing so was Apollo in 1882. Then there was the final time of 1:521/5.
It was the slowest running of the Florida Derby since Nashua won the race in 1955 on a sloppy track. Saturday’s surface was slow and tiring, however, and the final time could be treated with a grain of salt.
“It was a demanding, demanding surface,” winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. “The track was a concern all day. We ran some quality horses [Saturday] ran really slow times.”
Said Velazquez, who expended extra energy in fending off the challenge of Upstart and getting Materiality to the line first over the tiring surface: “I think I’m more tired than the horse.”
The race set up exactly as Pletcher said he thought it would. Jack Tripp took the early lead, with Materiality tracking in second and Upstart angling over from his outside post position to challenge in third.
“All of it unfolded exactly was we talked about,” Pletcher said.
It didn’t take long for Materiality to take the lead. And Upstart was right at his outside flank.
“We hooked up at the half mile pole all the way to the wire,” Velazquez said. That’s a lot of running.”
But the favorite wasn’t good enough to overtake Materiality.
Despite his anger over the objection claim, Violette conceded that Materiality “beat us fair and square. He’s obviously a nice horse. [Upstart] ran his eyeballs out.”
Violette said there’s still a strong chance Upstart will race in the Kentucky Derby. Materiality is all but certain to wind up there.