A trainer’s first impulse is generally the right impulse in racing. But not always.
Rick Violette’s willingness to change plans with pace-setting Diversify resulted in an emphatic 3 ½-length victory against late-running Mind Your Biscuits in the $1.2 million Whitney Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Violette had initially circled the $750,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga after his swift New York-bred dominated the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes by 6 ½ lengths on July 7 at Belmont Park. One development after another led him to continue to revisit those plans. In the end, he rather grudgingly entered the prestigious Whitney, a “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
“He just did too well not to run. Everything he did said run,” Violette said. “He ate up well here. He trained well. He breezed like a good horse last Sunday. His bloodwork was good. It was like, ‘OK stupid, stop being a chicken and bring him over.’ ”
Diversify, a 5-year-old Bellamy Road gelding, all but shouted encouragement when he fired a bullet breeze last Sunday at Saratoga, blazing five furlongs in :59.06. It was the swiftest of 48 workouts at the distance that morning.
The last piece that needed to fall into place was the bloodwork. The gelding’s strenuous efforts tend to take the starch out of him. These lab results showed the 1 ¼-mile Suburban had not taken any toll whatsoever.
The start of the Whitney was delayed 44 minutes by a thunderstorm as the New York Racing Association took every precaution to keep fans and horses safe from lightning. In addition, the track was sealed and listed as sloppy by race time.
Once Diversify stepped into the starting gate as a solid 8-5 favorite in a field of eight, his readiness for the 1 1/8-mile test was never in doubt.
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. signaled him to go at the start and they were off and winging through an opening quarter of a mile in 23.22 seconds, an opening half-mile in 46.50 seconds, and three-quarters of a mile in 1:10.70 en route to a final time of 1:49.62.
“We planned on being very aggressive, period, and see what happens,” Violette said. “If it was a mistake, it was a mistake. So be it.”
Mind Your Biscuits and his rider, Joel Rosario, raced in midpack before making their run. In Mind Your Biscuits’ first attempt at two turns, his belated charge was much too little, much too late. Diversify was never seriously threatened.
Longshot Discreet Lover came in third. Tapwrit, eyeing his first victory since the 2017 Belmont Stakes, ran fourth.
“On a sealed track, speed is really, really tough,” said Chad Summers, who trains Mind Your Biscuits.
Ortiz Jr. insisted he was never concerned.
“I don’t feel like he was getting tired,” he said, “so I was in good shape.”
Summers thought Mind Your Biscuits, also a New York-bred that is best known as the two-time winner of the six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen, performed well enough to continue to target the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“We’ve got three months to make up three lengths,” he said.
Summers said he will seriously consider using the Woodward to prepare for the Classic.
Violette, meanwhile, looks forward to having Diversify try for a repeat victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 29 at Belmont Park.
Whitney winners have fared well recently in the Classic. Blame (2010), Fort Larned (2012), and Gun Runner (2017) all turned Whitney victories into Classic triumphs. And Gun Runner went on to be an obvious choice as Horse of the Year.
“That’s what they tell me,” Violette said of the auspicious history. At the same time, he fretted about looking too far ahead.
“They say if you want to make God laugh,” he said, “make long-term plans.”