Upstart Figures to Improve off Holy Bull Victory

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Going into the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park, I thought favorite Upstart might need a race before delivering his best.

Then Upstart delivered a 5 ½-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile race. At this point, I have to figure that my initial presumption was incorrect or, and this could be very encouraging for fans of Upstart, that my initial thought was correct and Upstart will improve off the Holy Bull victory.

Upstart wins the Holy Bull Stakes.
Photo by Coglianese Photos/Leslie Martin
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We’ll see.

In the Holy Bull, Upstart showed versatility in his running style as he was closer to the pace earlier than he had been in previous efforts. In his two previous races of at least one mile, Upstart raced fourth through a half-mile of the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and fifth at the same point in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I), an average of two lengths back.

In the Holy Bull, Upstart raced second through a half-mile in :48.82, just a half-length behind early leader Bluegrass Singer. He was third, just one length back, through a quarter-mile of the Holy Bull; which is dramatically different than his eighth position, four lengths back, through a quarter-mile of the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile.

Granted, just looking at raw times, the Juvenile was faster early than the Holy Bull. But I think it takes a certain amount of maturity for a horse to change running styles—and run well--regardless of early fractions.

Trainer Rick Violette Jr. noted that jockey Jose Ortiz did a good job noticing the Holy Bull’s slow early pace and put Upstart into the race.

Rick Violette, Jr
Photo Courtesy of NYRA

“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.”

The good news for Upstart is he handled the change in tactics in the Holy Bull, moving to even terms with Bluegrass Singer through six furlongs in 1:12.49 before taking command in the stretch.

Upstart also delivered a strong finish compared with his first try at 1 1/16 miles in the Juvenile. The final sixteenth of a mile in the Juvenile was run in 6.22 seconds and Upstart lost four lengths in the final furlong of that race. In the Holy Bull off the layoff dating back to the Nov. 1 Juvenile, Upstart led through the stretch and completed the final sixteenth in 6.55 seconds while cruising to victory.

Violette thought the effort signaled a horse capable of building on a juvenile season that saw him earn two stakes wins against other New York-breds and a pair of grade I placings.

“(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.”

The sires of both Upstart’s sire, Flatter, by A.P. Indy, and dam, Party Silks, by Touch Gold, are Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winners. Flatter stands for $20,000 at Claiborne Farm. He is the sire of three-time grade I winner Flat Out who won the 1 ¼-mile TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park.

Upstart’s workout pattern before the Holy Bull suggests a horse who is thriving. He delivered five works from Dec. 23-Jan. 18 at Palm Meadows, three at four furlongs, one at five furlongs, and one at six furlongs. The longest gap between any of those moves was eight days.

“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,” Violette said a day after the Holy Bull. “You hope to see the graduation, and I think we saw it.”

Jose Ortiz hugs Upstart after winning the Holy Bull Stakes.
Photo by Coglianese Photos/Lauren King
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