Good Find

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When his daughter Lauren expressed interest in delving into Thoroughbred ownership, longtime owner Ralph Evans set out to find a useful New York-bred.

Evans identified Diversify, a 3-year-old gelding with wins in restricted maiden and allowance company in two starts for trainer Rick Violette, at the 2016 Keeneland November breeding stock sale and pulled the trigger, placing the final bid of $210,000. Diversify is Lauren’s first horse and one of only two horses she owns. The other is a 2-year-old Super Saver filly named Twofer who is winless in two starts.

“My daughter has followed my horses ever since she was a teenager,” Evans said. “At this stage in her life, she had a little money of her own and she wanted to get into ownership, so I decided to try and pick out a quality horse for her to race in her silks.

“I felt very comfortable with the fact that Rick had previously trained him. He certainly had conditions left. The numbers that he ran in his two races were certainly very competitive and I don’t suppose that a million people were interested in a 3-year-old gelding turning 4. So, I think we made one bid.”

Nearly one year later, Diversify broke on top and stayed the 1 1/4 miles of the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup to give the Evans’ their first Grade 1 win Saturday at Belmont Park. Although he ran in Lauren’s black, green and lavender silks, she wasn’t in attendance to see Diversify’s victory.

“I wish she were here, but she’s a bit superstitious. The one time that she did come to watch Diversify run, he got beat a nose and when she didn’t come, he won twice. She’s never invited back,” Evans joked.

Carrying the No. 1 saddlecloth, but breaking out of the eighth gate from the rail in the seven-horse field, Diversify leapt out of the stall on top. Diversify quickly opened several lengths on Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes winner Pavel. Todd Pletcher’s duo of Rally Cry and Destin tracked that gray 3-year-old on the outside while Highland Sky recovered from a bobbling break to race fifth along the fence. The addition of blinkers on Grade 2 Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan didn’t yield any early speed as he raced just in front of late-running Keen Ice, the race’s 6-5 favorite and Pletcher’s third entrant, who was last in the opening furlong.

Headstrong and restrained by rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Diversify powered through an opening quarter in :24.17, 2 lengths clear of his rivals. He maintained his margin past a :47.74 half and 6 furlongs in 1:11.42.

Rounding the sweeping turn of Belmont’s main track with his rider motionless in the saddle, Diversify opened 2 1/2 lengths on Pavel approaching the quarter pole. At the same time, Jose Ortiz engaged Keen Ice, shaking the reins and tapping the 5-year-old’s left shoulder. Keen Ice advanced four-wide and quickly passed Highland Sky, Destin, Rally Cry and Pavel.

Although Keen Ice took aim at Diversify, Irad Ortiz went to a right-handed stick in the stretch and the son of Bellamy Road responded, holding his 2-length advantage past the furlong marker and staying a length in front across the finish. Pavel finished third.

Diversify completed the classic distance in 2:00.96.

“We’ve been doing this a long time, we’ve never won a Grade 1 before, so it’s very emotional,” Evans reacted after the race. He cited his relationship with Violette, who was diagnosed with cancer several years ago and missed the race Saturday with other, less severe health issues, as contributing to the moving victory.

“Rick has had his problems. I too have had some health problems. Rick and I have been together a long, long time,” Evans said. “I have never won a Grade 1, so it is emotional from several different positions. Rick’s health, the fact that we’ve been doing this a long time, a good lightweight fighter trying to fight with heavyweight fighters for 50 years and occasionally, something good happens.”

Despite his overpowering victory in the Gold Cup, Evans initially thought Diversify couldn’t get the 1 1/4-mile distance. After the gelding lost a 1 1/16-mile allowance to Rally Cry this April and suffering a nose defeat in the 1-mile Commentator Stakes for New York-breds, the owner had his doubts.

“Originally, early on, I thought that he might be distance challenged,” he said. “I knew he was fast, he ran in a one-other-than open and Rally Cry passed us and beat us. Early on, I thought that perhaps he was distance challenged, but as we went on we realized, particularly his last two races, that one on the lead, he’s a tough customer.”

Diversify won the restricted Saginaw Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont July 2. He crushed New York-breds again in his next race when he won the Evan Shipman in front-running style by 11 1/2 lengths at Saratoga Aug. 21. After that race, the path to the Gold Cup materialized.

“It was either this or the $300,000 (Empire Classic) on the 21st. That was a little too much time in between races. We thought that if we were competitive here, it would give us more time to (get to the), I’m not going to say Breeders’ Cup, but Cigar Mile,” Evans said. “If we ran on the 21st, there was not a whole lot of upside for us, all we could do is lose, so I didn’t need any convincing and I don’t think Rick needed any convincing.

“The horse was doing well, he had plenty of time in between his last race and this one. He seems to relish the time and we would be the only early speed in the race. We were hopeful that he broke well and that we would get a reasonable lead.”

Although Diversify won a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by virtue of his Jockey Club Gold Cup score, Evans isn’t yet sure if the 7-time winner and earner of $775,425 will make the trip to Del Mar.

“We had a horse in the Breeders’ Cup once, a 2-year-old, Upstart, so it’s not as if, ‘ooh, I’ve got to go to the Breeders’ Cup,’ ” Evans said. “It would be no shame to hit the board in a $6 million race, particularly when they’re paying your entry fee. If I had to make the decision, I would say 50-50, but frankly, I don’t make the decision.”

Diversify’s win was one of four on the card for rider Irad Ortiz. Ortiz also connected with Firenze Fire in the Grade 1 Champagne, Disco Partner in the Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational and maiden winner Night Time Lady.