Historical documentation declares that a win is a win, outside circumstances be darned. And in the past-performance record of Starlight Racing's Itsaknockout, he is listed as unbeaten in his three career starts highlighted by a victory in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 21.
Certain aspects of that win aren't detailed in the black-and-white result. So if Itsaknockout earns another first-place designation in Saturday's Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, those factors will be reason for a different kind of celebration.
The Starlight Racing crew got to revel in Itsaknockout being awarded his first graded stakes triumph in the Fountain of Youth, but the backdrop was filled with controversy surrounding the stewards' decision to disqualify graded stakes winner Upstart to second for interference with Itsaknockout.
There is no disputing contact took place as Upstart appeared to be first bumped by a tiring Frosted and then bore out in the final sixteenth into Itsaknockout, who was advancing to his outside. Given that Upstart crossed the wire 23/4 lengths in front, there was a general feeling that the better horse was the one who got taken down — backed up by the fact Upstart was made the 8-5 morning-line favorite for their Florida Derby rematch.
Itsaknockout got the first-place money, the 50 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby, and the distinction of an unbeaten record heading into Saturday's 11⁄8-mile race.
While Itsaknockout has nothing to prove to them, his connections would like if his Florida Derby outing yielded conclusive, widespread respect.
"When I watched (the Fountain of Youth) live it looked as if our horse just hung," said Starlight co-managing partner, Jack Wolf. "But after reviewing it a number of times, I feel that if the consensus thinks it was a mistake to take the other horse down, I truly disagree with that.
"We could have suffered through the first bump when (Frosted) moved out into (Upstart) and he moved out to us, we could have withstood that. But we were truly making a move to pass both those horses when Upstart came out four paths and ... just prevented our horse from going forward. I don't see where we have anything to prove from that standpoint."
Regardless of his being elevated to victory via verdict, Itsaknockout's first try against graded stakes horses showed he belonged in that class and that there is room for him to keep improving as the calendar inches toward the first Saturday in May.
The Todd Pletcher trainee didn't make his career debut until Dec. 7 at Gulfstream Park when he broke his maiden at first asking going 7 furlongs.
The familiar toll of Derby potential went clanging through the Starlight partnership when the bay colt handily won a 1-mile allowance race by 51/4 lengths on Jan. 4. His foray into the Fountain of Youth against the likes of Upstart, who had opened his year with an effortless win in the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes, was the equivalent of throwing Itsaknockout into the deep end to see if he could figure out a useful stroke.
"We've had six horses in the Kentucky Derby ... but this horse is especially different in that the past ones all had much better foundation as 2-year-olds and this one got a relatively late start," Wolf said. "But he has done everything from a training standpoint you could want him to do. He's done everything Todd has asked of him.
"The mile and an eighth should help us from a breeding standpoint. From the way he works, it looks like it will be to his advantage."
With the points he earned in the Fountain of Youth, Itsaknockout is pretty much locked into the Derby field regardless where he finishes in the Florida Derby.
Given the debate surrounding his last result, Wolf said he was surprised to see his colt sitting as the 2-1 second choice on the morning line just behind Upstart.
"Given the consensus, I would have thought they would have made him (Upstart) the bigger favorite," Wolf joked.
Whether the majority thought Itsaknockout was deserving of his first graded stakes score, an unbeaten Pletcher-trained sophomore is one you ignore in prep races at your own risk.
"This is a Grade I, million-dollar race. Our goal is to win this race," Wolf said. "If he were to run up the track, we'd have to reconsider what we do for the Derby even though we have the points. But I don't expect that to happen."