One of the biggest questions regarding the 100th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Saturday at Belmont Park is whether Diversify can lead from start to finish for the second year in a row. Having earned over $1.95 million to date while winning 10 of 15 career starts, six at Belmont, and all but one win by leading at every point of call, we know where Diversify will be in the early stages of the race. Therefore, the main question concerns what kind of pace pressure will be put on him. Foremost among those likely to stay in touch with the presumptive front runner is Mendelssohn, a 3-year-old facing older horses for the first time on Saturday. Mendelssohn won the Group 2 United Arab Emirates Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group in March and most recently finished second in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at the distance of the Gold Cup. Another 3-year-old set to compete against older horses is Gronkowski, who was considered for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve following a win in England’s Burradon Stakes in March but who got a bit sick prior to the Derby. Gronkowski ran very well when second behind Triple Crown winner Justify in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in his U.S. debut in June, but enters the Gold Cup after finishing eighth of 10 in the Travers with no excuse. Then there's Thunder Snow, who did run in the Kentucky Derby, but the 2017 edition, pulling up shortly after the start after seeing puddles on the track. Having won both the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat on turf in summer 2017 and the Group 1 Dubai World Cup Presented by Emirates Airline on dirt this past March, Thunder Snow could be the most likely horse to deny Diversify his second straight Gold Cup victory. Most of the rest of the field is an unaccomplished lot, with Discreet Lover the only horse who has a graded stakes win, that coming in the Grade 3 Excelsior Stakes in April. Carlino, Patch and Uno Mas Modelo round out the field.
Analysis and Win Contenders:
Although Thunder Snow won the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse on the lead from start to finish, I doubt those tactics will be used in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, because Diversify is a horse with a high cruising speed and a very strong desire to lead from the start. More likely, it will be Mendelssohn who will be attending the pace early to keep Diversify honest and ensure he does not control the pace as he did in the 2017 Jockey Club Gold Cup when winning rather easily. Thunder Snow went to the lead at the start in the World Cup because it had been shown earlier on the day’s racecard at Meydan that such an aggressive running style was beneficial, such as when Mendelssohn led from start to finish to win the U.A.E. Derby by 18 lengths.
Prior to the World Cup, Thunder Snow proved to be capable of tracking the pacesetter and running well, such as when winning the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 in February. The Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 was the second of three successive big efforts in which Thunder Snow earned 106, 111 and then 116 Equibase Speed Figures, before he posted a tremendous 142 figure when winning the World Cup over U.S. Grade 1 winner West Coast. Since arriving at Belmont and coming out of quarantine, Thunder Snow put in a half-mile workout over the main track, and he will move back to dirt in the Jockey Club Gold Cup after an irrelevant effort on turf in Europe last month. As such, Thunder Snow appears more than capable of collaring Diversify in the stretch to win the Gold Cup.
That being said, Diversify has proven time and again to be one of the toughest horses in the handicap division to pass in the late stages of a race. The first time Diversify ran the distance of 1 ¼ miles was in last year's Gold Cup, a breakout performance where he earned a 119 Equibase Speed Figure, his second such figure in a row. After a pair of poor efforts last fall and this spring, Diversify recovered that form in April with a win in the Commentator Stakes, earning a 104 figure. He next improved to a 114 figure when winning the Suburban Stakes at this mile and a quarter distance on Belmont’s dirt track in July, and then improved again to a 118 figure when easily winning the Whitney Stakes last month at Saratoga. Diversify has shown an incredible liking for the main track at Belmont, with six wins and two runner-up finishes in eight races, which helps make him the other horse with a high probability to win this race.
Any of the other six can finish third. With the exception of likely early pace presser Mendelssohn, five of those six are likely to be coming from far back in the early stages and hoping to rally past most of the rest. With their best Equibase figures, they are Carlino (108), Discreet Lover (114), Gronkowski (107), Mendelssohn (109), Patch (109) and Uno Mas Modelo (109).