It was all set up.
On paper, there was nobody good enough or fast enough to run with Diversify early.
Then the paper got soaked.
But even that was part of the story set-up.
It got gray and dark at Saratoga Race Course, bringing a steady rain and some lightning that delayed the start of the 91st Whitney by 44 minutes. But it only delayed the inevitable, as Diversify took command right out of the starting gate and never looked back to win by 3 1/2 lengths over fellow New York-bred Mind Your Biscuits.
So, of course, the trainer who overcame cancer a few years ago — only to be forced to miss Diversify’s breakthrough victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last fall because of pancreatitis — greeted his horse back at the winner’s circle with a backward apostrophe of rainbow punctuating the top of the homestretch past Saratoga’s elegant spires.
“Yeeeah … I don’t want to read too much into that,” Rick Violette said with a laugh, bringing everybody back to earth.
His horse Diversify brought the Whitney field to its knees with a resolute victory as the 8-5 betting favorite, shrugging off a seemingly endless tour of the saddling shed in the paddock while everyone waited for the rain to go away.
— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) August 4, 2018
Once it did, and the course maintenance tractors had finished reconditioning the main track, the Whitney was all Diversify, the third New York-bred to win this race, after Fio Rito (1981) and Commentator (2005, 2008).
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. blasted out of the starting gate from post No. 6, angled over close to the rail before the first turn and dictated the pace without challenge down the backstretch.
Ortiz urged Diversify to find another gear on the second turn, and by the time they got to the top of the stretch, Diversify was 3 1/2 lengths ahead and was the only one of eight horses with a clean coat.
Joel Rosario roused Mind Your Biscuits from mid-pack on the turn to attempt his characteristic closing move, but there was too much ground to make up and too much Diversify in front of them. Mind Your Biscuits ran well in his first race longer than a mile, but was no match.
“He did everything right for me. He was ready,” Ortiz said. “I knew somebody was going to be coming, no matter what. It’s a Grade I, and there’s nice horses who want to win. He proved he could keep going. Only nice horses can do that.”
“I thought he ran good,” Rosario said of Mind Your Biscuits, “it’s just Diversify got an easy lead and was the horse to beat, anyway.”
Commanding Whitney win for Diversify and Irad Ortiz Jr. pic.twitter.com/DBa1UEjCg2
— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) August 4, 2018
The long shot Dalmore, 30-1 on the morning line and 52-1 after the betting public had its say, showed some past performance lines to suggest he might wear out Diversify in the early stages.
But he could do no better than hang around in a non-threatening second before fading to last.
“You hope Dalmore goes, you hope somebody goes, but the more and more you look at it on paper, they’re not fast enough,” Mind Your Biscuits’ trainer Chad Summers said. “I thought Diversify might get just a little bit tired, but Diversify just kept going. Great job by Rick to have him ready.”
Violette had said for weeks, after Diversify won the Suburban at Belmont Park, that he was ready to skip the Whitney and wait for the Woodward on closing weekend.
All the tumblers in the lock fell into place, though, once the anemia-prone Diversify passed a blood test on Monday, so his camp, which includes Violette’s long-time client Ralph Evans and Evans’ co-owner daughter Lauren, decided to take a swing.
“He did too well not to run here,” Violettte said. “Everything he did said ‘Run.’ He ate well, he shipped up here well, he breezed well last Sunday and came out of it good. His blood work came back well, so … ‘OK, stupid, stop being a chicken and run him.’”
The Whitney was a test for Mind Your Biscuits to see if, after 22 races at shorter distances, he’s equipped to build up to a shot at the mile-and-a-quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic in November.
Despite the loss, Summers said he didn’t see anything to dissuade him from continuing to pursue that.
Diversify will be waiting for him, following another shot at the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
After being too ill to see his horse win that race last year, Violette, one of the most respected horsemen on the New York circuit, plans to be at Belmont Park for this one.
“I don’t know that you can describe it, but I’ll be honest with you, the last few years — I mean, it’s great to have the horse — but with the amount of friends that have surrounded me the last few years, I’m a pretty lucky guy just on that alone,” he said.
Click here for a photo gallery from Whitney Day.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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