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For the past several months, it had appeared that multiple classic winner Afleet Alex (by Northern Afleet) would be represented at the Kentucky Derby by a high-profile contender in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red. Hampered by foot problems this season, however, the colt was declared out of the Run for the Roses by his connections two weeks ago.

Now Afleet Alex is back in the classic sire picture with a new Grade 1 winner in Materiality, who won the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Materiality looked strong and courageous as he defeated Upstart (Flatter) by 1 ½ lengths in the keystone event at Gulfstream, and Upstart had 12 ½ lengths on Ami’s Flatter (Flatter) in third. The top pair in the Florida Derby looked like the top-class colts they are, and both have run well every time this season.

Even so, Materiality’s jump into G1 company and success at that level mark him as a colt with serious prospects.

But the handsome bay has been a very nice animal all along. Bred in Kentucky by John Gunther, who also bred last weekend’s Godolphin Mile winner Tamarkuz, Materiality sold at the 2013 Keeneland September sale for $260,000 to Venture Six, and that price for the colt was the third-highest for a yearling by Afleet Alex that year.Brought through the 2-year-old sales program by Nick de Meric Sales, Materiality progressed into a good-sized, strongly made, and quite attractive juvenile.

At last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May sale of 2-year-olds in training at Timonium, Materiality worked a furlong in :10 2/5, showing a stride length just shy of 25 feet. The strength of the colt’s work and his presence at the barn put him on a lot of short lists, and agent Steve Young paid $400,000 for the colt, who races for the Alto Racing stable of Gil Moutray and Eddie Harrell.

That price made Materiality the top-priced 2-year-old in training for Afleet Alex last year, which is evidence that he was showing all the right clues to those looking for the best prospects. Even with all that good potential, Materiality was nothing like a finished product at the Midlantic May sale, and de Meric Sales had left plenty in the horse for the trainer to go on with.

The nice-looking bay had a good frame and the natural aptitude to stretch out. With time and maturity, Materiality has strengthened and improved to the point that he is now being touted as a serious dark horse candidate for the classics.

One serious strike against his prospects is that Materiality has made only three starts to date. And all three of them have come this year at 3, with his winning debut on Jan. 6 and his first stakes victory coming on March 11 in the Islamadora Stakes at Gulfstream. As we draw closer to the Derby, much will be made of the fact that no Derby winner in a zillion years went unraced as a 2-year-old.

There’s something to that because seasoning, both mental and physical, is important for competitors in the crucible of the classics. And horses who are behind on their education, training, or endurance can be found wanting in the great test at Churchill Downs and the rapid challenges that follow at Pimlico and Belmont.

But it is interesting that Materiality has been through a juvenile program, although a juvenile sales program, and that the reasons for his moderately delayed appearance in official races were normal and unexceptional.

Nor will Materiality fail at the classic test due to a fault in the classic quality of his sire. Afleet Alex was one of the best classic winners of the past 20 years. His victories in the Preakness, where he went to his knees on the far turn and showed an athletic recovery that was nothing short of astonishing, and in the Belmont where he crushed his contemporaries, marked Afleet Alex as an awfully good classic winner.

The astonishing thing in hindsight was that he lost the Kentucky Derby. He was that good.

As a son of Northern Afleet, a medium-sized and chunky son of the Mr. Prospector stallion Afleet, Afleet Alex was a top juvenile, winning the G1 Hopeful and finishing second in the Champagne, but he was not expected to excel at the classic distances. In type and class, however, Afleet Alex has clearly inherited an important legacy from his broodmare sire Hawkster, a high-class grandson of English Derby winner Roberto.

Roberto also plays a significant role in the physical traits of Afleet Alex, who is much more a classic horse in the Roberto mold and can throw stock of that character.

Like Roberto, Afleet Alex can get high performing juveniles like Dublin (Hopeful) and Texas Red, as well as stock that mature well like Afleet Express (Travers) and Iotapa (Vanity). It is also worth noting that Afleet Express is out of a half-sister to the dam of Materiality.

Standing at Gainesway, Afleet Alex is one of those quality sires who is a serious value play in the intensely competitive Kentucky stallion market, where he is priced at $12,500 live foal.

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