Originally published in the Aug. 5, 2018, Saratoga Special.
Rick Violette slammed his right fist down on the ledge of his front-row box and yelled one word – one sharp, definitive, door-slamming, declaration of a word.
“Yes,” the trainer said.
Seconds later, Diversify galloped past Violette, home free in the Grade 1 Whitney. In front from the start, Diversify stayed the course through the lane. The hard work done, Diversify scored by 3 1/2 lengths over Mind Your Biscuits and Discreet Lover in the $1.2 million stakes. Owned by Ralph Evans and his daughter Lauren, Diversify won his 10th race and second Grade 1 stakes.
An hour earlier, Violette and the rest of the Whitney participants waited out a thunderstorm that delayed the start of the Whitney for 44 minutes. While the eight Whitney runners, tacked up and ready to roll, walked in circles like soldiers on watch, Violette, standing just inside the saddling stalls tent leaned toward jockey Irad Ortiz and offered his take. “They sealed the racetrack, I think that will help us,” Violette said. “The outside was better, this might level the playing field. The rain, sealing it, it might help.”
Ortiz nodded his head, knowing he was gunning Diversify to the lead and hoping that the sealed, sloppy track did indeed help.
Diversify helped the cause, rocketing from stall 6 as the gates sprung.
“Broke great,” Violette said, as Ortiz slapped Diversify on his right shoulder twice and looked inside to see how fast he could clear. Real fast.
By the first turn, Diversify was in his wheelhouse, on the rail and in front as Tapwrit, Backyard Heaven and Dalmore tried to keep up. Mind Your Biscuits, making his first start at 9 furlongs, settled in fifth. Discreet Lover and McCraken filed in sixth and seventh while Good Samaritan lagged in last. Diversify ripped through the first quarter-mile in :23.22.
“That’s all right,” Violette said.
With Ortiz allowing for natural speed rather than stifling it, Diversify opened up 2 lengths after a half in :46.50. John Velazquez moved Tapwrit through on the rail into second as Dalmore began to backpedal. Backyard Heaven and Mind Your Biscuits stayed within striking distance as Discreet Lover began to slowly make up ground from way back.
“Run them off their feet,” Ralph Evans screamed, as Ortiz tried to do exactly that, stealing a length on the chasers, gunning Diversify into the turn. After three-quarters of a mile in 1:10.70, Diversify widened his lead to nearly 4 lengths as Mind Your Biscuits, the best come-from-behind sprinter in the game, moved past Tapwrit into second. Discreet Lover, a 38-1 Parx shipper, moved into fourth but had a mountain to climb. The rest were waiting for another day.
Diversify, tongue wagging out of the left side of his mouth, pounced to his right lead turning for home and kept galloping as Ortiz hit him 10 times right-handed, stealing two looks under his right arm before waltzing across the wire.
Violette watched Diversify streak under the wire, added another, less forceful, “Yes,” before kissing Ralph, Lauren and Judith Evans.
“At the half-mile pole, he set sail,” Violette said, walking toward the winner’s circle. “He’s some horse, to do that, he’s some horse.”
Winner of the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup last year, Diversify tacked on his third consecutive stakes win this season. The 5-year-old gelding, bred in New York by Fred Hertrich III and John Fielding, pushed his career earnings to $1,959,425.
Ten days before the Whitney, Violette said he wasn’t going to the Whitney, factoring in his dominant win in the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park July 4. Well, the veteran trainer said it, but left the door squarely open.
“I’m probably not going to do the Whitney, I nominated, just as a hedge because it’s falling apart,” Violette said. “The two California horses aren’t coming, it’s not nearly as tough as the Suburban. Mind Your Biscuits is going to run but you’re not supposed to shy away from him going a mile and an eighth. A million two, ‘Win and You’re In,’ we’ll see. I’ll breeze him this weekend, if he’s like crazy, maybe I’ll do it. The right thing to do is wait for the Woodward, I know it, but…”
Four days later, Diversify zoomed 5 furlongs in :59.06 over the main track as Violette, on his walkie-talkie to his exercise rider, tried to temper it.
“This breeze was scary, he went :46 and change and I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ He had gone off in almost :24 and he chirped to him and he went, zzzrrmmm, he was throttled down in :59 flat,” Violette said. “And was good since, ate up, looked great, energy was up. Every day, he said, ‘Come on chicken ----, run. I’m ready, are you?’ You’re supposed to listen to your horse, sometimes, we don’t so well. Today, we did.”
Sometimes, it’s a simple game. Violette listened to his horse and Evans listened to Violette, like always. Violette convinced Evans to buy Diversify for $210,000 Keeneland November in 2016. The gelded son of Bellamy Road had won twice for WinStar Farm and Violette before the sale. Ralph Evans asked Lauren, a lifelong racing fan, if she wanted to partner on her first horse. She jumped at it.
“When she had sufficient bucks, I said, ‘You’re in when I buy my next horse.’ It’s her colors, not mine, I haven’t won a Grade 1 in my colors yet,” Ralph Evans said. “It’s unbelievable, in 1979, she was confirmed, she didn’t want a party, she wanted to go to the Derby, so I took her to Spectacular Bid’s Derby. And now here we are.”
Lauren Evans laughed about how her infatuation with racing led to winning the Whitney at Saratoga.
“It’s awesome, the whole family, it’s wonderful, wonderful. I wasn’t at the Jockey Club Gold Cup, so this is awesome. He proposed it when Diversify was going up for sale, I hadn’t thought about it, I wasn’t living close to home, but I was like, ‘Yes. Yes. Yes.’ I was excited,” Lauren Evans said. “To have a horse that you can focus on the racing, he’s a gelding, for me, it’s about the sport, about the racing.”
At the end of the day, Ralph Evans headed for his plane and Violette headed to his barn.
“Good for you, it took (nerve) to run, in four weeks, because you would have been second-guessed, not by me,” Ralph Evans said.
“Well, you’re the only one that counts,” Violette said.
Then, they kissed each other’s cheeks and said good night.