Everything has been in order in the parallel universes just two barns apart on the Saratoga Race Course backstretch for the past few days.
In No. 21, Mind Your Biscuits likes to groove to his music, which lately has been the “Hamilton” soundtrack.
“Let it rain,” trainer Chad Summers said Friday morning, looking at the gray sky as he hit the gas on his golfcart to go watch a workout.
Not far away, a woman at the breakfast counter guessed correctly that trainer Rick Violette wanted jelly on his English muffin.
At barn, No. 19, Violette’s horse Diversify was prone to licking what apparently is delicious old green paint just outside his stall. The snozzberries taste like snozzberries.
These coolly confident worlds will collide on Saturday in the $1.2 million Whitney, which presents one of the most interesting head-to-head matchups of the 2018 Saratoga meet so far.
A sharp workout last Sunday coupled with Diversify’s favorable blood test results gave Violette the green light at the last minute to run his 5-year-old gelding in the Whitney.
The Mind Your Biscuits camp, meanwhile, has been targeting the race all along, but with the element of mystery: He’s never raced as long as a mile and an eighth or around two turns in 22 career starts.
Mind Your Biscuits breezes under Joel Rosario in prep for the Whitney pic.twitter.com/vqXBvZOujo— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) July 27, 2018
Both New York-bred horses are trying to make it to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and for one race, anyway, that path will go through each other.
“We can’t wait for Saturday,” Summers said.
“He just kept getting better and better and telling me to run,” Violette said of Diversify. “It's that simple. He breezed fast, came out of it great. Attitude, blood was good ... everything was saying 'run.' That's one of the tenets, that's when you're supposed to run your horse.”
After Diversify, the 7-5 morning-line favorite for the Whitney, romped in the Suburban at Belmont Park on July 7, Violette said they’d skip the Whitney and shoot for the Woodward.
Diversify has a tendency to become anemic sometimes, which is linked to his having been gelded, Violette believes, so they regularly track his blood cell count.
It’s one of the boxes that needs to be checked before he races, and they all have checkmarks this week.
Diversify pretty full of himself. Kicked the stall every time they brought him in pic.twitter.com/JEd91ThhbY— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) August 2, 2018
The only gripe Violette has coming into the Whitney is that the condition book allows Mind Your Biscuits (2-1) to carry seven pounds fewer than Diversify will, a complaint echoed by trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle 2017 Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit.
“It's ridiculous,” Violette said. “It's enough to get you beat. Realistically, this is an incredibly important race to be skewed by arbitrary weights.”
Anyway, Violette remains eminently confident in Diversify.
He made the leap from dangerous state-bred to Grade I winner in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last fall, and romped by 6 1/2 lengths in the Suburban in his last start.
Four weeks before that, Mind Your Biscuits had just missed by a nose to Bee Jersey in the Met Mile, and although the Whitney’s two turns and nine furlongs is new territory for him, he looms as the one to beat.
Mind Your Biscuits has won the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen the last two years and, at almost $4 million, is the leading New York-bred money earner in history.
“Anytime you take a very high quality horse like Mind Your Biscuits who might be capable of doing anything -- and closed well in the Met -- that’s a horse you have to pay a lot of respect to, regardless of the distance,” Pletcher said.
“He's a good horse. And nobody knows about two turns,” Violettte said. “Maybe he's a better horse going two turns. You're never supposed to dodge somebody who's doing something for the first time, but to think that he has no chance is pretty silly. There's the unknown. And we'll find out. There should be ample pace in the race to track, and we’ll see if he's good enough.”
Besides the front-running Diversify, the 30-1 long shot Dalmore could infuse some spark into the early pace.
He hasn’t won a graded stakes in over two years, but has shown early speed in his three 2018 races. At Tuesday's post-position draw, owner Ron Paolucci said he’d give jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. $1,500 for every quarter-mile Dalmore leads.
The field, in post-position order, will be Tapwrit, Backyard Heaven, Dalmore, Mind Your Biscuits, Discreet Lover, Diversify, Good Samaritan and McCraken.
“He [Dalmore] could be a pain in the neck. But he's inside of us,” Violette said. “If he wants to be silly and outrun us to his own peril, then, fine, let him go. Frankly, he's not the horse to worry about in the race. I think we'll be aggressive and ride wherever we're comfortable.”
In Diversify’s only start at Saratoga, he won by 11 1/2 lengths against New York-breds in the Evan Shipman last year.
Mind Your Biscuits won the Amsterdam as a 3-year-old, but lost his other four starts at the Spa, including a sixth by eight lengths in the Forego last year.
“Saratoga is a necessary evil,” Summers said. “He loves the atmosphere, the ambience. The track itself, the configuration of the track is not his perfect track. But I think he’s enough horse that it won’t matter. If there was a steel cage match race, he’d run on anything.
“I expect him to be much closer, with Diversify coming drawn out in the sixth, and like Rick said, giving us seven pounds, it's a short run into the first turn, and if Diversify gets hung wide, he gets hung wide.”
“It's a great race to begin with,” Violette said. “I know people are kind of taking shots at it. But you've got a Belmont winner, you've got a multiple Dubai Shaheen winner who got beat a lip in the Met Mile. And Backyard Heaven, you throw out his last race, and he might be the one in the race that has the biggest upside.
“And everybody wants to keep discounting Diversify, and he keeps winning, so that's pretty cool.”
FOUR IN A ROW
Trainer Chad Brown won the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes for the fourth year in a row on Friday.
Late in the race, he was wondering whether his horse should even have been entered in it.
Raging Bull was uncomfortable with the wet Mellon turf course for most of the race and appeared to be out of it, but he and jockey Joel Rosario steadfastly zeroed in on the leader once they got straightened out in the middle of the stretch and caught Maraud by the shortest of noses in the final stride to win.
Brown won this race with Bricks and Mortar last year, Camelot Kitten in 2016 and Takeover Target in 2015.
“It’s obviously a race we point for every year, and we’ve been lucky to have horses good enough to run in it,” Brown said.
Based on the turf condition and how his horse was handling it, Brown was second-guessing himself in the middle of the race.
He didn’t have to second-guess himself when it was over.
“He just didn’t look comfortable until maybe the three-eighths pole,” he said. “I was thinking at that point that it was the ground and maybe I should’ve scratched the horse and run in the Secretariat [at Arlington Park next weekend].”
Gidu, a son of the great Frankel, led most of the way, but fell back after being caught by Todd Pletcher stablemate Maraud at the sixteenth pole.
Maraud looked like the winner from there, but Raging Bull didn’t give up, especially once he found more favorable footing away from the inside.
“For a second I thought the horse in the lead was going to stay there, but I’m glad that he got it done,” Rosario said. “It looked like he was struggling with the ground a little bit.
“I tried to just be in the clear, because when I want to go run, I don’t want anybody to be in my way. He takes a long time to get into his stride.”
“He just ran incredible that last quarter-mile,” Brown said. “I was quite concerned on the far turn because it just didn’t look like he was getting over the ground very well. He was towards the inside and was making up no ground.
“I’ll tell you, I didn’t think this horse was going to win all the way to the wire. Just a remarkable turn of foot.”