Weighty Question

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When Upstart drifted out in the stretch of the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) Saturday, Feb. 21 at Gulfstream Park, he held off Itsaknockout but would be placed second by the stewards for interference in the stretch.

While that stewards' decision will continue to be debated, I think it's also worth noting that Upstart was carrying six pounds more than Itsaknockout. The weight assigned to the race was 122 pounds, which as a grade II winner Upstart carried in full.

The race conditions provided two-pound allowances for horses who had not won a grade I or II race of one mile or longer, four pounds for horses who had not won a grade III race or $60,000 at one mile or longer, and six pounds for horses who had not won two races other than maiden or claiming.

Upstart, #7, and Itsaknockout, #5, in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Photo by Coglianese Photos/Lauren King
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With horsemen opting to start young horses later and make fewer starts, each of the three horses who reached the wire after Upstart—Itsaknockout, Frammento, and Frosted—received the six-pound allowance. Upstart was the only horse in the field of eight to carry the full 122 pounds.

In the day's other Road to the Kentucky Derby points race that awarded 50 points to the winner, 20 to second, 10 to third, and 5 to fourth, International Star registered a one-length victory in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds. The 120-pound impost didn't slow the son of Fusaichi Pegasus, but each of the three horses behind him carried 116 pounds in War Story, Keen Ice, and St. Joe Bay.

International Star wins the Risen Star Stakes.
Photo by Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges
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The Fair Grounds condition book offered weight allowances for the Risen Star similar to the Gulfstream allowances. In fact no one carried the full 122 pounds as highweights International Star and Imperia each carried 120, receiving a two-pound allowance as non-winners of a grade I or grade II race. Imperia finished fifth as the 3-2 favorite.

Why does this matter? Because both races help determine the horses who qualify for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). To me it seems strange that races used to determine the Derby field still include these weight allowances. Keep in mind that this would have been the case under the graded stakes earnings system as well. (It was strange then too.)

I'm thinking that with everyone on a tight schedule to make the classic races in the spring, fields for these races wouldn't be impacted much either way if these weight allowances in graded stakes that carry Derby points were discontinued. Of course, it would have to be done across the board or otherwise some tracks would use the allowances to attract more horses.

Fountain of Youth DQ

Based on reaction on social media, I think I was one of the few people who felt like Upstart should have been disqualified in the Fountain of Youth. But I wasn't neutral in my opinion so I didn't weigh in.

Itsaknockout was my top pick in the race on That Handicapping Show. I recommended betting Itsaknockout to win, betting him in an exacta over Upstart and Gorgeous Bird, and boxing those three in an exacta. I make a point of betting in real-life any wager recommendations I make on the show.

My admittedly biased two cents on what happened is that Luis Saez on Itsaknockouut had to pull up hard when Upstart and Jose Ortiz drifted out several paths. That's why despite the 2 3/4-length final margin, I think it's difficult to say that Itsaknockout would have finished second even if he hadn't been interfered with (which seems to be the opinion of most who favored leaving the order untouched). It's a close call for sure, and I understand the argument on the other side.

Trio Secure Derby Spots

While the controversial disqualification of Upstart in the Fountain of Youth cost the son of Flatter a prestigious victory, his runner-up finish combined with his previous accomplishments should be enough to ensure him a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands (gr. I) field.

I think we saw our first three horses punch their Derby tickets this weekend in Risen Star winner International Star and Fountain of Youth winner Itsaknockout and runner-up Upstart. The two winners secured 50 points with their wins, which based on the first two years of the points system will be plenty to land a spot in the Derby.

International Star leads all Road to the Kentucky Derby horses with 71 points followed by Itsaknockout at 50. Based on the first two years of the points system, it's safe to say the 36 points earned by Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) winner Upstart through Feb. 21 will be enough to make the field.

While they'll want to add some more points in the coming weeks just to be sure, El Kabeir (25 points), War Story (24), Far Right (22), and Dortmund (20) may already have enough points and certainly are close to landing spots.

In 2013 the final Derby horse in the 19-horse field, Giant Finish, had just 10 points. Last year the final three horses to earn spots in the 19-horse field each had 20 points in Vinceremos, Harry's Holiday, and Commanding Curve.

Next up

The next Road to the Kentucky Derby points races are three 50-20-10-5 events set for March 7: the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack, San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park, and the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) at Tampa Bay Downs.

I made a mistake in a previous blog posting when I said the final weekend of January marked the final one without a points race. I apologize for that error.

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