Trainer Rick Violette waited until the day of entries to decide whether to run Diversify in the Whitney. Then Mother Nature made him wait some more.
In the end, it was well worth the wait as Diversify, under Irad Ortiz Jr., blasted out of the gate on top and led every sloppy step of the way to win the Grade 1, $1.2 million Whitney Stakes at Saratoga by 3 1/2 lengths over fellow New York-bred Mind Your Biscuits. It was a half-length to the hard-trying longshot Discreet Lover in third.
It was 6 1/4 lengths back to Tapwrit, the 2017 Belmont Stakes winner, in fourth. He was followed, in order, by Good Samaritan, McCraken, Backyard Heaven, and Dalmore.
The Whitney win, coupled with his 6 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes last month at Belmont Park, establishes Diversify as the East Coast’s leader in the older male division.
The victory also earned Diversify a fees-paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs. Last year, Diversify was held out of the Classic after earning a fees-paid berth by winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Saturday’s Whitney card was impacted by weather. First, overnight rains prompted New York Racing Association officials to cancel the final two races on the program, both stakes scheduled for the turf.
Viewers who tuned in to watch the Whitney were probably wondering what all the fuss regarding weather was about as most of the card was run under bright sunshine. But shortly after 5:30, the clouds came rolling back in, accompanied by lightning, thunder, and heavy rain. Due to the lightning, horses were held in the paddock for nearly an hour before the race went off at 6:30 p.m., 41 minutes later than the made-for-TV revised post of 5:49 p.m.
The main track, which had been fast for most of the card, was sloppy and sealed.
“All these horses were stars, they had their tack on for an hour in the paddock and they behaved so remarkably well and they ran great races,” Violette said. “We happened to be best today. He’s such a cool horse.”
Diversify had run such a fast race in the Suburban on July 7 that Violette felt the prudent thing to do was skip the Whitney and target the Woodward on Sept. 1.
But Diversify showed him all the signs that he was ready to run. He ate well. He trained well. His blood work, which Violette monitors constantly, was good.
On Tuesday, the morning of entries, Violette decided to enter.
“Okay, stupid, stop being a chicken and put him in,” Violette said was his attitude.
Rain or shine, fast track or wet, the plan was the same. Go to the lead and try to keep going.
The 124-pound co-highweight, Diversify was gunned to the lead by Ortiz. He opened up a one-length lead over Dalmore after running a quarter in 23.22 seconds. It was two lengths after a half-mile in 46.50 and 3 1/2 lengths after six furlongs in 1:10.70.
“He proved that he can go that fast and keep going, so I don’t want to change anything on him,” said Ortiz, who was able to get out of a commitment to ride Backyard Heaven to take his regular seat aboard Diversify.
Around the turn, Mind Your Biscuits, who was 5 1/2 lengths off the lead under Joel Rosario, launched a rally into second by the top of the stretch. But down the lane, Diversify was long gone.
“Irad really threw the gauntlet down at the half-mile pole,” Violette said, noting that Diversify “didn’t quite drag him there. He said ‘Let’s go’ and dared anybody to catch up.”
Diversify, a gelding by Bellamy Road owned by Ralph Evans and his daughter Lauren, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.62 and returned $5.20 to win. He improved his record to 10 for 15 and increased his earnings to $1,959,425.
Ralph Evans credited Violette with his decision to run in the Whitney.
“I think he took a big chance today to be second-guessed about running his horse back so quickly,” Evans said. “I think it took [guts] on his part.”
Both Violette and Evans said they would reserve a decision on the Breeders’ Cup until a later date. Evans said he has had no luck at Churchill Downs, noting that Upstart finished 18th in the 2015 Kentucky Derby and Diversify finished fourth after gaining an easy lead in last year’s Clark Handicap.
Conversely, Chad Summers, the trainer of Mind Your Biscuits, said he is now thinking of trying to get to the Classic, at 1 1/4 miles, with his horse after a solid second-place finish in his first start around two turns and first try at 1 1/8 miles.
“I thought he galloped out really good. We’ll talk to Joel and the connections, but I see no reason not to move on,” Summers said.
Discreet Lover continued his streak of running well in major races with his third-place finish. He finished fourth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and third in the Grade 2 Suburban.
“This horse always tries, they don’t never give him no respect; he always goes off 38 or 40 to 1, we love it; we bet him and we make money and we love it,” Uriah St. Lewis, owner and trainer of Discreet Lover said. “I’m already telling them I’m running back in the Woodward.”
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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