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Diversify eating up the competition, but no Woodward

Diversify eating up the competition, but no Woodward

Whitney winner will try to win the Sept. 29 Jockey Club Gold Cup for the second year in a row
Diversify eating up the competition, but no Woodward
Diversify (6) gets the jump on his seven rivals at the start of the Whitney on Saturday. He won by 3 1/2 lengths.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

Rick Violette couldn’t keep Diversify in his stall on Saturday.

He had a hard time doing that on Sunday, too.

Until a week ago, his 5-year-old  New York-bred gelding wasn’t supposed to run in the $1.2 million Whitney at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, but looked so good and had been training so well that it didn’t make sense to skip the race.

Diversify backed up his pre-race signals by running away with the Whitney by 3 1/2  lengths.

On Sunday morning, he was tired but still feeling so fresh that Violette was compelled to let Diversify out to spend a few hours in a round pen and another hour grazing.

Between the Whitney result and the way Diversify came out of it, it’s all systems go for the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 29. Beyond that, they’ll look at the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and co-owner Ralph Evans has hinted that they might look at the Jan. 26 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park and its $16 million purse.

In the meantime, Violette and his staff, including assistant Melissa Cohen, were content to bask in the glow of Diversify’s third straight win and second career victory in a Grade I.

“It was a surreal day, between the storm, the thunder and lightning, the delay, the darkness into light, the rainbow … it was pretty bizarre,” Violette said. “Last night I woke up every 10 minutes from the adrenaline.”

The Whitney went off at 6:30 p.m., 44 minutes after its scheduled post time, because a rainstorm with some lightning moved in as the horses were ready to be saddled about 15 minutes before the race.

The track was sealed to keep the rain from sinking in, and was listed “sloppy” for the Whitney.

Unlike every other horse in the field, Diversify didn’t have a speck of mud on his face or body because he and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. got a clean break and hustled to the lead and the rail and never gave it up.

The job of keeping him calm without losing his edge while everyone was in a holding pattern in the paddock before the race ultimately seemed like a bigger challenge than winning the race itself.

“He was the one doing all the kicking in there,” Violette said. “Almost lethal, when he starts kicking. It got a little dicey for a couple people in there.

“It was a pretty big test for everybody in there. You just never know how they’re going to react to it, because they go through their whole cycle, you put the tack on, the adrenaline goes, the endorphins get pumping, they break out, they sweat a little bit and then you’re in there long enough, they actually cool down and systems are shutting down a little bit and you don’t know which ones are going to fire back up. They know the difference. You can only fool them a little bit.”

Another good sign for the Diversify camp was that he ran so well after posting a similar performance four weeks prior while winning the Suburban by 6 1/2 lengths at Belmont Park.

That shows that he’d be able to handle the four-week gap between the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup without a dropoff.

One checkmark on the negative side is that Diversify hasn’t raced well at this year’s BC site, Churchill Downs.

He was fourth in the Grade I Clark there in late November.

“He didn’t handle the Churchill surface last fall and got dinged up there a little bit,” Violette said. “I might go there early and actually train him for a month after the Jockey Club. I wouldn’t just ship in and run, and the fact of the matter is, the Evanses, we’ve had zero luck at Churchill, historically.”

Violette gave a hat tip to runner-up Mind Your Biscuits and trainer Chad Summers, who were trying two turns and a distance longer than a mile for the first time in 23 career starts.

“He ran great,” Violette said. “It should’ve set up for them, because there was plenty of pace in the race. He was second and probably wants to shoot me, because if I wasn’t there, he probably was the winner.”

The decision for Summers and his owners going forward will be whether to continue to aim for the mile-and-a-quarter BC Classic or the Dirt Mile.

Summers said he didn’t see anything in the Whitney to suggest that Mind Your Biscuits shouldn’t keep pursuing the longer race, no matter what the experts on Twitter and Facebook believe.

“Obviously, it was a sealed track, so it was a little bit different, but I think he showed up,” he said. “Really, the way that it was cemented was the way Discreet Lover came up to him and looks like he’s going to run right by him.

“He sees Discreet Lover, and he takes off again. He’s not going to let that other horse pass him. Then, together, they both cut into the margin a little of Diversify and Biscuits gallops out in front of the field.”

That all was encouraging to Summers he said, despite the opinions of the internet jockeys out there.

“On social media? It was the biggest question since the hanging chads with Al Gore,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much negative feedback on social media on a horse who hadn’t done something before.

“It was never a question within our camp. We were always confident. We weren’t as confident after a 41-minute delay and a sealed track, but we always felt like he can do it. And it’s funny, the race is over and social media is still going to say he can’t do it. That’s fine.”

The options heading forward for Mind Your Biscuits are the Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 1 or the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs on Sept. 29, both at a mile and an eighth, or the Kelso at Belmont on Sept. 22 or Ack Ack at Churchill on Sept. 29, both at a mile.

“I think he showed that the distance won’t be a problem,” Summers said. “We’ll see how the divisions lie and everything else, and Diversify could be up in the air whether he’s going to go to the Breeders’ Cup.

“Here’s the thing. I learned a very valuable lesson from Rick Violette yesterday. Until entry day, nothing is ever a given. I can tell you this and I can tell you that, and on entry day, if he’s training too good, then he shows up in the race. It worked out for him, so maybe I ought to take a shot with that. If he makes the Woodward, it’s because he’s doing that good. If he doesn’t, then that’s OK, too. We’ve never forced him into any race. We’ll just take it as a given.”

Trainer Uriah St. Lewis said third-place finisher Discreet Lover would shoot for the Woodward.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said fourth-place finisher Tapwrit may not have handled the sloppy track, and since they had been considering skipping the Whitney and training up to the Woodward, Tapwrit would continue to aim for that race on closing weekend.

“It’s impossible to say we would’ve had a different outcome on  a fast surface, but at the same time, Diversify is in awfully good form and he’s just kind of running everyone off their feet, so hats off to them for a good performance.”

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-3395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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