Tom Pedulla presents five major takeaways from Jockey Club Gold Cup Day on Saturday at Belmont Park:
NEW YORK, NEW YORK: It used to be that handicappers could rather safely dismiss New York-breds when they attempted to compete at high levels in open company. No longer. Diversify provided the latest example of a New York product showing he belonged in a Grade 1 when he led at every call in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup and finished with a one-length decision against Keen Ice. “He’s a good horse and he’s improving,” said jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. “He’s growing up and he was that good.” Ortiz said the 4-year-old gelding appears to be kicking the habit of waiting for horses to challenge him.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Rick Violette, who trains Diversify, said a decision will be made next week on whether to take advantage of the automatic Breeders’ Cup Classic berth awarded to the winner of the Gold Cup and make the expense-paid trip to Del Mar. No one would be all that surprised if they opted to stay home rather than oppose what looms as a star-studded cast in the Classic. Diversify is a burner who had everything his way when he proved to be the lone source of speed in the mile-and-a-quarter Gold Cup. As Violette said, “The pace certainly made the race for us.” There is no way that would happen against the likes of Gun Runner, Arrogate and West Coast in the Classic.
SECOND AGAIN: The Jockey Club Gold Cup remains elusive for trainer Todd Pletcher. When Keen Ice rallied to be second to Diversify, it marked the sixth time Pletcher saddled the runner-up. “No matter what they tell you,” Pletcher said, “it’s really hard to finish second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup six times.” Although Keen Ice prefers to make one dramatic late run, jockey Jose Ortiz was forced to give chase to Diversify sooner than he would have liked. “In a perfect world, you’d be able to wait a little longer to sustain that kick in the last part,” Pletcher said. “But you’ve got to start moving when a horse like that is loose on the lead.”
PROMISING PAVEL: The decision owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill made to ship 3-year-old Pavel east from their West Coast base could not have worked much better. After winning his debut on July 1 at Santa Anita, the Creative Cause colt ran fourth in the Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga, coasted by six lengths in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing near Philadelphia, and took third in the Gold Cup in his first tussle with older horses. O’Neill said of the Gold Cup, “It was our horse’s fourth start – fourth different racetrack – and I thought he had a really good, really gutsy effort.”
WORTH NOTING: Given that Good Magic was making only his second career start after placing second in his debut on Aug. 26 at Saratoga, his runner-up finish to more seasoned Firenze Fire in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes suggests he bears watching as he progresses for trainer Chad Brown. “I thought he ran very well, especially for a maiden,” Brown said after Good Magic missed by half a length. “It’s the first time he’s seen dirt in his face, probably going to learn a lot from that.” Firenze Fire, by contrast, marked his fourth start in the Champagne. He already was battle hardened in graded stakes company, having taken the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes before settling for fourth in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes.