Rick Violette’s faith in Diversify never wavered.

Not when he made a late start to his racing career. Not when a few setbacks shortened his 3-year-old campaign. And not when his owners decided to pull the plug and sell him as a racing prospect late in his sophomore season.

Violette remained bullish in Diversify enough to convince one of his staunchest supporters, Ralph Evans, to buy the Bellamy Road gelding and keep him in the barn. He didn’t waver entering Diversify first in black-type and state-bred stakes company and then Grade 1 company. The rewards came in the 2017 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park and big time in the 2018 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga.

Violette passed away last fall but his faith in Diversify continued to pay off Monday night at Saratoga National Golf Club when the horse posthumously provided one of racing’s biggest allies with some of the highest honors at the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Annual Awards Banquet.

Diversify earned a pair of New York-bred championships – Horse of the Year and older dirt male – and helped his dam, the Street Cry mare Rule One, earn Broodmare of the Year honors. Diversify’s title in the top category ended a two-year run by Mind Your Biscuits, who he defeated in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga and who was named champion New York-bred male sprinter for the third year in 2018.

Bred by Fred Hertrich III and John Fielding and foaled at Majestic View Farms in Gardiner, Diversify won three of five starts and earned $1,190,000 in 2018. He won the Whitney over Saratoga’s sloppy and sealed surface after a monster thunderstorm broke out while the horses were in the paddock, along with the Grade 2 Suburban and $200,000 Commentator over fellow New York-breds.

Diversify, who is in training with Jonathan Thomas for a 2019 campaign for the Evans’s, is 10-for-16 lifetime with a bankroll of $1,989,425. He’s owned by Ralph Evans and his daughter Lauren, who were both on hand Monday to accept Diversify’s honors with Judith Evans, Hertrich, Fielding and Violette’s longtime assistant Melissa Cohen.

Winners in the non-voting categories were Chester and Mary Broman as breeder of the year for the sixth time, Jeremiah Englehart as trainer for the first time and Irad Ortiz Jr. as jockey for the fourth straight year and fifth overall. Rule One, dam of Diversify, was named broodmare of the year.

Each of the winners was profiled in a special commemorative program produced by the team at ST Publishing and The Saratoga Special. Here’s the profile of Diversify and a full list of the individual champions.

Horse of the Year, Older Dirt Male: Diversify

2013. B. g. 2013, Bellamy Road—Rule One, Street Cry.

Breeders: Fred Hertrich III and John Fielding.

Owners: Lauren and Ralph Evans. Trainer: Rick Violette.

2018 record: 5-3-0-0, $1,190,000.

2018 stakes: Commentator, Suburban (G2), Whitney (G1).

The one we didn’t want to write. Well, the one we didn’t want to write this way. Over two decades of writing about New York-breds, about New York racing, no one impressed us, confounded us, exasperated us, mesmerized us like Rick Violette.

Sure, there were horsemen who did one, or some, of those, but never one to do all four. As challenging as the veteran horse trainer, who died from cancer in October, was to capture in words, it was always worth the challenge. Whether it was about Lasix or litigation, Upstart or Samraat, Violette was always a sure thing.

His final work of art? His final say? Diversify.

We just didn’t want to write it this way. Without Violette at the helm, without his steely gaze and heady words about an overachieving horse with the trainer’s fingerprints from top to bottom.

Bred by Fred Hertrich III and John Fielding and owned by Lauren and Ralph Evans, the bay son of Bellamy Road won three of five starts in 2018, including the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.

Oh, that was Violette’s greatest day, running Diversify a month after winning the Suburban, the free-running front-runner jetting from the gate, wiring seven rivals and Violette, from a front-row box, slamming his first on Saratoga’s old wooden ledge. You could almost hear the history.

“Yessssssss,” Violette said.

Diversify still had a furlong to go, in a Grade 1 at Saratoga, with closers still firing and Violette declared it over. Conviction. The man always had conviction. And that day, he had perspective.

After the win picture, after the interviews, after a champagne toast, after it was all over, we asked Violette about life.

“It’s a weird thing. It’s great and it’s important, but whip cream and cherry on top,” Violette said. “I’m telling you, to all the people who took care of me, New York, Florida, Saratoga, Kentucky, that’s all a win, the friends who came out of the woodwork, the people that you didn’t know cared for you at all, people who went over the moon to help you. This is terrific and without minimizing how terrific this is, this is kind of the dressing, the other stuff is important, I have so many more friends that I never knew I had.”

Rest in peace, Rick. Congratulations, Diversify.

- Sean Clancy

 

Other New York-bred champions for 2018:

Female Sprinter & Older Dirt Female: Holiday Disguise

2-Year-Old Filly: Sue’s Fortune

2-Year-Old Male: Somelikeithotbrown

3-Year-Old Filly: Midnight Disguise

3-Year-Old Male: Audible

Turf Female: Fourstar Crook 

Turf Male: Voodoo Song

Male Sprinter: Mind Your Biscuits

Broodmare: Rule One