Materality was added to Todd Pletcher's Kentucky Derby contenders when winning the Florida Derby. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)
Making the Grade, which will run through the 2015 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win important races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a closer look at Materiality, winner of the $1-million Besilu Stables Florida Derby on March 28 at Gulfstream Park.
Materiality has come a long way in a short time. Since his debut sprinting at three-quarters of a mile in January, the bay colt by 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex has strung together three straight wins and cemented a spot in the 2015 Kentucky Derby. Is it too much too soon? Will he fall victim to the “Curse of Apollo”? Let’s take a closer look.
Sire (Father): Afleet Alex
Dam (Mother): Wildwood Flower, by Langfuhr
Owner: Alto Racing
Breeder: John D. Gunther (Ky.)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Ability: One thing this year’s cast is not devoid of is fast horses. In year’s past, the typical lament has been that none of the 3-year-olds has proved particularly fast. That’s no issue this year with familiar rivals Dortmund and Firing Line and dazzling champion American Pharoah. Add Materiality to that list.
All Materiality has done since January is record three straight triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures, capped by a 115 off a short rest for winning the Florida Derby. To put it in perspective, Materiality tied the best 3-year-old Equibase Speed Figure posted in a stakes race in 2015, and the other two that equaled his figure both did it in sprints. The 115 is one point better than Dortmund and Firing Line earned in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and four points higher than Florida Derby runner-up Upstart posted in an electrifying win early this year in the Holy Bull Stakes.
The biggest concern for me is that Materiality took :13.73 to cover the final eighth of a mile, which is very slow. However, it does appear that the main track was playing pretty slow on Saturday, which explains the big speed figure despite the unattractive final eighth of a mile.
One important note: His race before the Florida Derby in the Islamorada Handicap at the same 1 1/8-mile distance showed that he is capable of pressing a faster pace than he faced in the Florida Derby and finishing faster. In that race, he came home more impressively in :12.95.
Bloodstock agent Steven Young purchased Materiality for $400,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training on behalf of Gil Moutray's Alto Racing. With $656,028 in lifetime earnings from three wins in as many starts, he has proved an astute purchase.
Running style: Materiality has pressed the pace in his first three starts and then taken control with an explosive burst of speed. While he is very willing to rate behind a pacesetter, he does not appear to enjoy being slowed down too much. When that happens, Materiality uses his cruising speed to take charge. I think there might be even more here with this colt. It’s tough to know for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Materiality can comfortably race close to a fast pace and still have enough gas in the tank to make his bid on the far turn. His sire was electric on the final turn of his races, so perhaps he would even be willing to drop a little bit farther back and save a little bit extra as the races get longer on the Triple Crown trail. He is so lightly raced, though, that it’s difficult to tell. He figures to be a bit of a Wild Card in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby.
Previous Making the Grades
Connections: Seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher won the Kentucky Derby in 2010 with Super Saver and the Belmont Stakes in 2007 with Rags to Riches and 2013 with Palace Malice.
Pletcher nominated 32 three-year-olds to the 2015 Triple Crown, including Grade 1 winners Carpe Diem and Daredevil, Louisiana Derby runner-up Stanford and Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Itsaknockout.
Alto Racing is a partnership between Harrell Racing and Seven Rivers with Eddie, Curtis, Forrest, and Keith Harrelll owning Harrell Racing and Gill Moutray, Dawn Clark, and Kacy Ellis owning Seven Rivers.
Alto Racing's graded stakes winners include 2015 Kentucky Derby contender Materality, 2014 Lexington Stakes winner Winning Cause, Old Hat winner Sweet Whiskey and Noble Damsel Stakes winner Peace Preserver. All of Alto Racing's horses are trained by leading trainer Todd Pletcher.
John Velazquez, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom and owns a pair of Eclipse Awards, is the regular rider for Materiality as well as Carpe Diem. He will have a tough choice between the two highly regarded Derby hopefuls. Velazquez guided Rags to Riches to victory in the Belmont Stakes in 2007 and also guided Union Rags to victory in the 2012 Belmont.
Velazquez was a 2012 inductee into the Racing Hall of Fame.
Pedigree: Materiality is from the sixth crop of 2005 Preakness-Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, arguably one of the more underrated horses since the turn of the century. After he clipped heels with Scrappy T on the turn of the Preakness Stakes and still went on to a runaway win, he was absolutely dominant in the Belmont Stakes. His final quarter-mile in :24.50 was the fastest since Arts and Letters in 1969 (although Rags to Riches came home in :23.83 in the 2007 Belmont).
The Belmont was Afleet Alex’s final career race because of an injury, which was especially disappointing because he looked like he was just finding his best stride.
As a sire, Afleet Alex has passed along stamina and occasionally the push-button acceleration he was known for. Texas Red, for example, showed incredible acceleration in rallying from last to first to win last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Other top runners by Afleet Alex include Afleet Express, winner of the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at 1 ¼ miles in 2010; 2011 Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Afleet Again; and Grade 1 winners Iotapa and Dublin. He has sired 15 graded stakes winners among 33 stakes winners through March 30 and his 455 starters have earned more than $28-million.
MATERALITY IN THE FLORIDA DERBY WINNER'S CIRCLE
Materiality is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to Grade 2 winner My Miss Sophia, who finished second in last year’s Kentucky Oaks. His dam, Wildwood Flower, by Langfuhr, was a stakes winner sprinting who placed in graded stakes at seven furlongs and 1 1/16 miles.
Wildwood Flower is a half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner and sire Eye of the Tiger as well as stakes-placed winner Expanse, the dam of the aforementioned Travers winner Afleet Express and multiple Grade 2-placed stakes winner Reporting for Duty.
Materiality’s third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Ice Fantasy, was a stakes winner sprinting whose son Fighting Fantasy won the Grade 3 Alysheba Stakes as a 2-year-old and competed in the Kentucky Derby. Other direct descendants of Ice Fantasy include multiple Grade 1 winner and sire Snow Ridge, 2006 Preakness runner-up Sweetnorthernsaint and multiple graded stakes winner Fiftyshadesofhay.
There is a lot to like when combining this pedigree with Materiality’s ability. We know he can go 1 1/8 miles and be effective at the Grade 1 level, and it’s a huge plus to see his half-sibling finish second just last year in the Kentucky Oaks against elite competition. There also are some interesting names a little bit deeper in the pedigree and the class shows up as a nice mix of speed and stamina.
No horse who did not race at two has won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882. Great horses such as Curlin tried and failed. I’m not much for curses or historical trends, but this one does have some merit.
It’s a lot to ask of a horse to go from maiden to Kentucky Derby in just a handful of starts without that 2-year-old foundation. Based on talent, running style, connections and pedigree, Materiality ticks all of the necessary boxes I like to see in a classic winner — I would love him if he targeted the Preakness. But I think we all know he’ll end up in the Kentucky Derby if healthy and training well, and he would have to be truly special to win on the first Saturday in May with only three starts under the saddle.