Making his first foray into graded company for trainer Rick Violette Jr., Lauren and Ralph Evans' 4-year-old New York-bred Bellamy Road gelding took the lead early in the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup and held on to the advantage even when 6-5 favorite Keen Ice tried to chase him down. Ralph Evans, who races the bay gelding in partnership with his daughter, picked up his first grade 1 win after more than 50 years of ownership, and it was the first grade 1 in a decade for Violette, who last won the 2007 Darley Test Stakes (G1) and Prioress Stakes (G1) in back-to-back months with Dream Rush.
Joining Haynesfield (2010) and Funny Cide (2004) as Jockey Club Gold Cup winners from the Empire State this century, Diversify got the perfect opportunity to carry his speed on the front end under Irad Ortiz Jr. Solid opening fractions of :24.17 and :47.74 paved the way for him to carry on through a slightly quicker three-quarters in 1:11.42, with plenty left for a 1:36.08 mile. Although Keen Ice mounted his typical closing bid from sixth, Diversify carried on and dug in well in the final stages to prevail by a length. The final time was 2:00.96 on a fast track.
"We couldn't have dreamed of a better scenario," Violette said. "The first quarter, going in (:24) was ideal. He's done nothing but get better from the early summer until now. He's always been a nice horse, but he's certainly jumped into the major leagues here today."
Diversify soared to an 11 1/2-length win in the Aug. 21 Evan Shipman Stakes going 1 1/8 miles against fellow state-breds at Saratoga Race Course, and took the July 2 Saginaw Stakes going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont. He had never raced in a graded stakes before Saturday, and took on open company for the first time since a runner-up finish in an April allowance at Belmont.
"(Keen Ice) might've moved a little earlier than he wanted to, because we were always loose on the lead," Violette said. "The pace certainly made the race for us. My only instructions to Irad were to ride him like he rode him in Saratoga."
"He's a good horse and he's improving," Ortiz said. "He's growing up and he was that good today. He was ready to run today. He was challenged and responded. Before he used to play a little bit and would wait for horses. He doesn't do that as much anymore, so he's getting better."
Diversify was sent off as the 7-2 second choice and returned $9.80, $4.40, and $3.40. Keen Ice returned $2.70 and $2.30, and Doug O'Neill-trained 3-year-old Pavel completed the trifecta, with a $3.80 return. The order of finish was completed by Good Samaritan, Destin, Rally Cry, and Highland Sky.
Bred by Fred Hertrich III and John Fielding out of the Street Cry (IRE) mare Rule One, Diversify was a $210,000 purchase by his current connections at Violette's recommendation from WinStar Racing, which consigned him to the 2016 Keeneland November breeding stock sale to dissolve a partnership. He also went through the ring at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton preferred New York-bred yearling sale, where he was picked up for $150,000 from Taylor Made Sales Agency by WinStar partnership Maverick Racing.
With the win Diversify picked up an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) via the Breeders' Cup Challenge series.
"We did pick up the 'Win and You're In' for the Classic today, but we're going to enjoy today's race and give it a couple of days," Violette said. "I'll talk it over with Lauren Evans and Ralph Evans and we'll come up with a decision next week."
Keen Ice and Pavel are expected to continue to the Classic.
Of Keen Ice, trainer Todd Pletcher said "He was pretty far back and he made a lot of ground up from the half to the quarter pole. In a perfect world, you'd be able to wait a little longer to sustain that kick in the last part. But you've got to start moving when a horse like that is loose on the lead. He ran well."
"The race set up exactly how we thought, but the winner is a really nice horse," O'Neill said. "It was our horse's fourth start—fourth different race track—and I thought he (made) a really good, really gutsy effort today.
"If he stays injury free, I think his future is extremely bright. He showed he can run with these guys and I look forward to a rematch in the Breeders' Cup Classic."