“Super Saturday” Set For Belmont Park This Weekend: Diversify Ready?

From the Belmont Park Media Team:

G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup:

Lauren Evans and Ralph M. Evans’ New York-bred millionaire Diversify will vie for his second straight victory in the 100th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup against a field of eight on Super Saturday at Belmont Park.

Carrying an all-fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup is one of four stakes and three Breeders’ Cup qualifiers on Saturday, along with the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for the Turf and the Grade 1, $350,000 Vosburgh for the Sprint. The Gold Cup, carded as Race 10 on Saturday’s 11-race program, will be broadcast on Belmont Park Live 4-6 p.m. ET on MSG+.

A 5-year-old Bellamy Road gelding trained by Rick Violette, Jr., Diversify is coming into the Gold Cup off three straight wins, including the one-mile Commentator for New York-breds in May and the Grade 2 Suburban at 1 ¼ miles on July 7 during the Belmont spring/summer meet.

Following his 6 ½-length Suburban victory, Diversify’s connections planned to wait until the Grade 1 Woodward on closing weekend at Saratoga Race Course, but a five-furlong bullet breeze on July 29 prompted a redirection to the Grade 1 Whitney. The eleventh-hour switch was rewarded with an impressive gate-to-wire victory as the 3-2 favorite over a sloppy and sealed track, crossing the wire 3 ½ lengths ahead of multiple Grade 1 winner and reigning New York-bred Horse of the Year Mind Your Biscuits.

Last year, he won a pair of New York-bred stakes, capped by an 11 ½-length romp in the Evan Shipman at Saratoga, and successfully stretched out to 1 ¼ miles for the first time with a gutsy one-length victory in the 2017 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

“The Whitney was a last-minute decision, no question, but we went there because he was doing so well and everything was exceptional going into it,” said Violette. “Skipping the Woodward basically gave us another couple weeks to let him chill a little bit, refuel his tank. It gave us extra time to not really rest but feel out the horse and get us back to our best race.

“There’s a lot of marbles on the table. A big race is a big race and there’s some nice horses in there,” he added. “He’s had three very, very good races and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he can handle an off racetrack. He’s a very good racehorse, he’s fit, and the time since the Whitney should give us a fresh horse going into this.”

Diversify will be ridden by his regular jockey, Irad Ortiz, Jr., from post 6.

Diversify could have some pace competition from Godolphin’s Group 1 Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow, making his second U.S. start for trainer Saeed bin Suroor. The 4-year-old Irish-bred colt completed his serious training for the Gold Cup Wednesday morning with an easy four-furlong breeze over the muddy Belmont main track in 52.94 seconds, picking up the pace late to cover the final quarter-mile in 25 1/5.

Thunder Snow’s first trip to North America resulted in a disappointing non-run in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, where he began bucking shortly after leaving the gate and was pulled up by jockey Christophe Soumillon on the front side of Churchill Downs. After the Derby, Thunder Snow won the 2017 Group 1 Prix Jean Prat on the turf in France and Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge in February at Meydan Racecourse.

He earned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure for his World Cup victory, taken in frontrunning fashion by 5 ¾ lengths in track record time over 2017 Travers and Pennsylvania Derby winner West Coast on March 31. In his only start since then, Thunder Snow set the early pace in the Group 1 Juddmonte International before fading to eighth on August 22 at York.

“We’re excited to get him back to the dirt,” said Tommy Burns, bin Suroor’s traveling manager. “He was running well in the U.K. on the grass in Group 1s and he did win a Group 1 in France on heavy ground in Saint-Cloud Racecourse, but he really enjoys the dirt, so we’re happy to see him back on it.”

Soumillon has the return call. The pair will break from the outside post 8.

A pair of 3-year-olds exiting the Grade 1 Travers on August 25 at Saratoga in Mendelssohn and Gronkowski, both facing older horses for the first time.

Mendelssohn, second in the Mid-Summer Derby to Catholic Boy, will make his fourth straight U.S. start for champion European trainer Aidan O’Brien. An 18 ½-length winner of the Group 2 UAE Derby in March, the bay Scat Daddy colt finished last of 20 following a rough trip in the Kentucky Derby, contested over a sloppy track in May at Churchill Downs, and was third as the 3-2 favorite in the Grade 3 Dwyer on July 7 at Belmont prior to the Travers.

Gronkowski, who finished a late-closing second to Triple Crown winner Justify in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes in June, will look to rebound following a dull eighth-place finish in the Travers. Gronkowski, a 3-year-old colt by Lonhro named for New England Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, began his career in Great Britain, winning four straight races on synthetic tracks before transferring to trainer Chad Brown’s barn this spring.

“He was doing great heading into the Travers, the only time he didn’t do well was in the [race],” said Brown. “The track just got him that day.”

Ryan Moore will ride Mendelssohn from post 3, while Jose Ortiz will be aboard Gronkowski, breaking from post 2.

Trainer Todd Pletcher will be represented by ocularly-challenged Patch, exiting a fifth-place finish in the Woodward on September 1. The popularly one-eyed Union Rags colt has hit the board in each of his two previous starts at Belmont, finishing third in 2017 Belmont Stakes and winning a 1 1/16-mile allowance by a neck in May.

Patch will have the services of Luis Saez from post 4.

Rounding out the field for the 100th running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup are Discreet Lover, a sneaky third in both the Suburban and Whitney this summer before fading to a 12th-place finish in the Woodward last time out for owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis; Uno Mas Modelo, entering the Gold Cup on a three-race win streak at distances of 6 ½ and seven furlongs; and Carlino, a 1 ½-length winner of an optional claiming contest at 1 1/8 miles for trainer Mark Hennig on August 26.

(Imperial Hint returns in Vosburgh / Photo by Chelsea Durand & Courtesy of NYRA)

G1 Vosburgh Stakes:

Returning off of his effortless victory in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on July 28, in what was one of the most impressive performances this summer at Saratoga Race Course, Raymond Mamone’s multiple graded stakes winner Imperial Hint will try to extend his victory streak to three in Saturday’s Grade 1, $350,000 Vosburgh at six furlongs on the main track at Belmont Park.

As part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Series, the Vosburgh, which awards the winner an all-fees-paid berth into the Sprint, will be shown on Belmont Park Live from 4 to 6 p.m. on MSG+ as part of the September Super Saturday card.

The 5-year-old son of Imperialism earned his first Grade 1 victory in the Vanderbilt under Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano, who maintained a motionless crouch in the saddle atop the Florida-bred as he circled the field of six foes along his four-wide journey.

The Luis Carvajal, Jr.-trained horse continued with ease to the wire prompting racecaller Larry Collmus to remark in amazement that the 3 ¾-length winner never even tried during the completion of his call. The time of 1:08.98 over the track listed as good that day was only .94 seconds off the track record set by Speightstown over a fast track in the 2004 Vanderbilt on his way to becoming that year’s Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter. Carvajal was equally shocked with his runner’s performance.

“I was thinking that he was going to run a really good race, and I was hoping that he was going to win that race, but I never thought he was going to do it the way he did it,” Carvajal said. “It just amazed me the way he did it. I know he made it look easy. Javier said it made him look like a statue. That’s why I’m looking forward to Saturday; he’s training very, very well. He worked really good the other day, and hopefully he’ll perform the same way. He’s super. He’s doing great, and I’m looking forward to Saturday.”

Imperial Hint has been a model of consistency for the Parx-based trainer with the exception of a disappointing sixth-place finish three starts back in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on May 5, where he tired over the deep, sloppy course in mid-stretch after setting quick fractions amid the field of nine.

The race at Churchill Downs and a runner-up finish to one-length winner Roy H in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar accounts for the only two losses in the last 10 starts for Imperial Hint, a hot streak that began in the mud against open claiming company at Parx in November 2016 when he scored by six lengths over his home track.

Since the Vanderbilt, Imperial Hint has fired four bullet works at Parx and, like most horses in training on the East Coast recently, he had to work around patterns of inclement weather with most brought by remnants of Hurricane Florence. With one breeze on the mud and three over fast tracks, little seems to faze the speedy but versatile runner who will make his 18th career start on Saturday.

“Usually they’re good as 3-year-olds, then when they come to four, they change, but it seems that this guy just got better,” said Carvajal. “Every time he works he puts in bullet works without even asking him. The rider takes him out here, and tries to hold him back, but he just goes. He seems likes he’s just more mature and gotten a lot better, but like I always say we just go race by race. We just have to keep him sound.”

A return to the Sprint in this year’s Breeders Cup on November 3 at Churchill Downs was the once long-range plan for Imperial Hint, but as the World Championships get closer, Carvajal said he wants to focus on the day-by-day and not get ahead of schedule. Adding the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to the win column would be the icing on the cake for the humble Carvajal and his horse, as he tries to contain his excitement when given the chance to think about it.

“If we do go back to Kentucky, it’s a different game, and the third one is the lucky charm,” Carvajal laughed. “I hope it definitely works that way. We’ll go step by step and see how he’s doing after this Saturday’s race, and then we’ll make plans for his next race.”

Imperial Hint will be ridden by Castellano from post 6.

Trainer Ray Handal has quickly become known as an astute horseman in the claiming game. A victory by his gelding Still Krz would make the 6-year-old by Old Forester as the first to advance from a claiming level start to a win the historic Vosburgh after Handal claimed him off trainer Jason Servis for $32,000 following his gate-to-wire victory by 4 ¾ lengths on August 15 at Saratoga.

The Ontario-bred looks to make his first graded stakes start while debuting for the fifth barn of his career. The winner of eight races from 31 lifetime starts could join Langfuhr, Victor Cooley and back-to-back winner Private Zone, who won in both 2013 and 2014, as Canadian-born Vosburgh winners.

Still Krz drew the outside post 7 and will have Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the irons.

Also entered to run in the Vosburgh is Loooch Racing Stable’s Sightforsoreeyes for trainer Anthony Quartarolo and jockey David Cohen from the rail; Three Diamond Farm’s Maniacal for trainer Michael Maker and Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez from post 2; Nice Guys Stable’s Forge for trainer Dermot Magner and jockey Manuel Franco from post 3; KRA Stud Farm’s Mr. Crow for trainer Ben Colebrook and jockey Luis Saez from post 4; and Jim and Susan Hill’s Silver Ride for trainer Brian Lynch and jockey Jose Ortiz from post 5.

(Robert Bruce winning the G1 Arlington Million / Photo Courtesy of Arlington Park)

G1 Joe Hirsch Stakes:

Convento Viejo’s Robert Bruce will look to record his second consecutive Grade 1 win in heading an accomplished eight-horse field in the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic as part of September Super Saturday at Belmont Park.

One of four graded stakes on the day, the 42nd running of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic is also one of three Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifiers on the 11-race card, offering a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf on November 3 at Churchill Downs to the winner. Carded as Race 8 with a post time of 4:42 p.m., the 1 ½-mile race on the Widener turf will air as part of Belmont Park Live’s coverage from 4-6 p.m. on MSG+.

The Chilean-bred Robert Bruce has two wins in his first three starts since arriving from his native country. Under trainer Chad Brown, the 4-year-old Fast Company colt registered a personal-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure in rallying from eighth for a half-length win the Grade 1 Arlington Million on August 11 at Arlington Park at 1 ¼ miles. Brown said he is expecting a similar effort as Robert Bruce stretches out to 1 ½ miles for the first time since winning the Group 1 El Ensayo Mega in his last race in Chile on October 27 at Club Hipico De Santiago.

“He’s doing real well and I’m thrilled with the way that horse is moving,” Brown said. “He’s done well from the Million. [He] can stay further. I’m confident he’ll step up for a mile and a half, but we’ll just have to see.”

Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who was aboard for the Arlington Million win, will have the return call from post 1.

Augustin Stable’s Spring Quality will ship up from Fair Hill, Maryland looking to sustain his recent success after finishing on the board in his last four starts, all against graded stakes company.

The Graham Motion trainee will be returning to Belmont for the first time since winning the Grade 1 Manhattan by a neck over fellow Joe Hirsch entrant Sadler’s Joy on Belmont Stakes Day, June 9. The 6-year-old Quality Road gelding will be competing at 1 ½ miles for the second consecutive start after running third in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer on August 25 at Saratoga.

“I don’t think the mile and a half will be an issue with him,” Motion said. “I thought the Sword Dancer turned into a bit of a tricky race. Speed obviously played good that day in Saratoga, so I don’t think the [distance] will be an issue. He handles Belmont [well].

“Saratoga is a tricky turf course. It’s tight, it’s fast, and I think he’s a little more suited to a more galloping type of turf course.”

Spring Quality has posted two wins, a runner-up effort and a third-place finish since closing out his 5-year-old campaign with a win in the 1 3/8-mile Grade 3 Red Smith at Aqueduct in November 2017, which marked just his second race on turf after making his first seven starts on dirt. With a 6-3-1 record in 12 career starts, the Pennsylvania-bred will be looking to earn millionaire status after entering with $960,797 in career earnings.

“We gave him a lot of time to develop and were always very patient with him. You could say we took too long to get him on the grass,” Motion said. “This is obviously what he was always calling out to do. He just handled the dirt so well that I didn’t want to make him into a grass horse until he could benefit from it. He’s shown he can compete at the top level on the grass in Grade 1 company.”

Hall of Famer Edgar Prado, who was aboard for Spring Quality’s last seven starts, will ride again from post 6.

Hi Happy will also look to improve on his Sword Dancer effort after running fourth for trainer Todd Pletcher. The Argentinian-bred 6-year-old struggled with Saratoga’s soft turf in running sixth in the Grade 2 Bowling Green on July 28 but will now be returning to Belmont, where he has posted triple-digit Beyers in his last two starts: a 101 in his third-place Manhattan finish and a 104 for winning the Grade 1 Man o’ War on May 12.

“He just kind of ran an even race [in the Sword Dancer], but he didn’t run horribly,” Pletcher said. “The first time at Saratoga in the Bowling Green, he didn’t handle the course at all that day, so I just never got the sense that he handled Saratoga as well as he’s handled Belmont or Gulfstream. Hopefully, getting him back here will help get him back into form.”

Luis Saez, who piloted Hi Happy to the Man o’ War win by a half-length, as well as the Manhattan, will break from post 2.

Channel Maker, second to Glorious Empire in the Sword Dancer, fared well on Saratoga’s turf during the meet, finishing first in a dead heat in the Bowling Green. After finishing no better than sixth in his previous two Belmont starts, the 4-year-old son of English Channel will get another chance at the Widener turf for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

Jose Ortiz will be in the irons from post 8.

Graded stakes winner Carrick has three wins in his first four starts for trainer Tom Morley, including an impressive victory by a neck over Analyze It in the Grade 1 Secretariat on August 11 at Arlington Park.

Carrick, the only 3-year-old in the field, was unraced as a juvenile and started his career 2-for-2 at Belmont before moving up to stakes company, finishing third in the Grade 3 Kent on July 14 at Delaware Park. That marked his only start in which the Giant’s Causeway colt didn’t earn a trip to the winner’s circle, rebounding to win the 1 ¼-mile Secretariat on a course rated good.

Hall of Famer John Velazquez will exit from post 4.

Sadler’s Joy, sixth in the Sword Dancer and third in the Bowling Green, will return to Belmont for the first time since the Manhattan, which was the second of two consecutive runner-up efforts after finishing behind Hi Happy in the Man o’ War and Spring Quality in the Manhattan. The 5-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy will be looking for his first win in six starts for trainer Tom Albertrani, drawing post 3 in tandem with Hall of Famer Javier Castellano.

Highland Sky will be looking to thrive in the confines of Belmont after back-to-back fifth-place efforts in the Bowling Green and Sword Dancer. Trainer Barclay Tagg said Highland Sky, who has twice finished second in graded stakes, will look to take advantage of a course more suitable to his style.

“He’s doing great. So far, so good, and I think he’ll like this course here,” Tagg said. “It’s a little bit bigger and it won’t be so tight on the turns.”

Manny Franco will be aboard from post 7.

Teodoro will make his North American debut for trainer Thomas Dascombe. After posting six wins in 15 starts, including a win in the Group 3 Rose Of Lancaster on August 11 in Great Britain, the 4-year-old Irish-bred will have the services of acclaimed jockey Ryan Moore from post 5.

G3 Pilgrim Stakes: 

Set to make his first start since winning the Grade 3 With Anticipation at Saratoga Race Course, Opry will headline a field of 11 in the 40th running of the Grade 3, $200,000 Pilgrim for juveniles going 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf Saturday at Belmont Park.

One of four graded stakes races on the day, including the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and the Grade 1, $350,000 Vosburgh, September Super Saturday will be televised regionally on Belmont Park Live from 4-6 p.m. ET on MSG+ and will also be available on NYRA NOW, the official digital streaming app of the New York Racing Association.

Purchased for $180,000 as a yearling for owners Cheyenne Stables and Gaillardia Racing, Opry was scratched from his first intended start at Saratoga and made his debut on August 11 at the Spa in a race taken off the turf. He finished third in that effort and made his next start in the With Anticipation, where the son of Declaration of War lunged at the break but finished strong to win by 1 ½ lengths, earning a field-high 78 Beyer Speed Figure.

“Initially, the plan was to run him on the turf and he drew the also-eligible,” said Pletcher. “When that race came off the turf we decided not to run even though we could’ve drawn in. We entered him back and the race came off the turf again, so I figured he trained well enough on the dirt that we needed to get him started. He ran a respectable race that day and I’d been impressed enough with his turf works to think it wasn’t crazy to enter him in the With Anticipation. Since then he’s continued to develop and certainly has earned his way into running here.”

Opry will depart from post 5 with Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano in the irons.

Pletcher will also enter maiden Social Paranoia for the Elkstone Group. The son of Stress Boss has made four starts with three second-place finishes and one third. Making his turf debut in his most recent start on August 25 at Saratoga, he finished 1 ½ lengths behind fellow entrant Forty Under.

“He’s been second several times on turf and dirt but he’s been training very well,” said Pletcher. “In his last breeze, he worked in company with Opry and held his own. We’ll add blinkers for this race and we think he’s progressing well enough to take a shot with him in here.”

Social Paranoia will leave from post 8 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard.

Nedlaw Stable’s Rhythm with Soul is also entered for trainer John Kimmel. A New York-bred son of Munnings, he made won his debut going 5 ½ furlongs on the turf, besting a field of 10.

“He’s out of a Kitten’s Joy mare, but initially we worked him on the dirt and he was just moving very moderately,” said Kimmel. “When we finally breezed him over the turf at Oklahoma [in Saratoga], we liked the way he moved and so we entered him for this race on the turf sprinting knowing it might be a bit short. He didn’t break with much speed, but he began picking off horses and finished very strong. His gallop-out was also very impressive, leading us to believe he’ll appreciate the added distance in the Pilgrim. Our only concern is how he’ll handle the break at the start but once he gets into gear, he’s proven he’s got ability.”

Drawing the rail, Rhythm with Soul will have the services of Luis Saez.

Trainer Mike Maker, enters Somelikeithotbrown for Skychai Racing. A Big Brown colt, he finished second in the With Anticipation after breaking his maiden in his turf debut and second career start on August 8 at Saratoga.

Somelikeithotbrown will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 7.

Rounding out the field are Forty Under for August Dawn Farm and trainer Jeremiah Englehart who broke his maiden in his most recent start on August 25 at Saratoga; Ole Mole for trainer Guadalupe Preciado and owner Nicholas Cammarano, Jr.; Spirit Animal for trainer Chad Brown and owner Klaravich Stables; Pipes for Dogwood Stable and trainer Gary Contessa; Vineyard Sound and Dashing Dan for trainer Michael Dilger and owners Vineyard Racing and George and Stephanie Autry; and main track-only entrant Casa Creed for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and LRE Racing.

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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