by TERESA GENARO
As Diversify rounded the final sweeping turn at Belmont Park in Saturday’s $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), Rodney Paine, perched on a platform above the finish line, started yelling.
“Come on, Big D!” he exhorted. “Dig in! Dig in, Big D!”
And dig in did the four-year-old son of Bellamy Road. Having led largely unchallenged for every step of the 10-furlong race after breaking from post 1, Diversify and Irad Ortiz Jr. had plenty left to hold off late bids by Pavel and Keen Ice to win by a length.
“Yes!” cried Paine, an exercise rider for trainer Rick Violette, and Diversify’s regular rider in the morning. “Yes!”
A box of tissue wouldn’t have been out of place in the Belmont winner’s circle: tears of joy filled Paine’s eyes, as well as those of Violette’s assistant Melissa Cohen and owner Ralph M. Evans, mixing with tears of relief, and of delayed emotion.
For the first time in the 50 years that Evans has owned horses, he won a Grade 1 race. For the first time since 2007, Violette won a Grade 1 race. Both men have also undergone treatment for illness in the last two years, and on Saturday, a sport that often unrepentantly rebuffs those who hope and dream provided the opportunity to revel in one of its greatest achievements, made all the more rewarding because of its elusiveness.
Now, the team will likely head to Del Mar and the Breeders’ Cup, having earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) with the victory in the Gold Cup, a “Win and You’re In” race, something that Evans could never have imagined when he purchased Diversify with his daughter for $210,000 at last November’s Keeneland sale.
“Rick had trained the horse, and he was two-for-two,” Evans said. “A partnership was dissolving, so he was in the sale, and I was comfortable with the fact that Rick had trained him. I don’t suppose that a lot of people were interested in a three-year-old gelding. I think we made one bid.”
Lauren, an employee of the Parks Department, is stationed on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
“She couldn’t get in for this race,” said Judith Evans, Ralph’s wife and Lauren’s mother. “She comes to a lot of races when she can arrange the connections and the travel. And I’ll bet she’ll be in California.”
“My daughter has followed my horses ever since she was a teenager,” said Evans, “and 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 — not that I expected this — for her to race in her silks.”
He added with a rueful smile, “So as far as the Grade 1 is concerned, I still haven’t won one in my silks.”
Diversify was bred in New York by Fred W. Hertrich and John D. Fielding. He is out of the Street Cry mare Rule One and was purchased originally by Maverick Racing for $150,000 at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton sale of preferred New York-breds. With the $450,000 he earned in the Gold Cup, he’s got earnings of a little more than $775,425.
Long a supporter of the New York-bred program, Evans is a conservative man when it comes to his horses, and as he discussed his horse’s options, he spoke about the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same breath as the Empire Classic for New York-breds in two weeks, then acknowledging that he wouldn’t often bring a horse back on rest that short.
“If I had to make the decision [about the Breeders’ Cup], I would say 50-50,” Evans said. “I could overrule Rick, but that’s probably happened only once or twice in 20 years that Rick has been training for me.”
The Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct on December 2 is also a possibility.
Given the team’s reactions, though, to the Gold Cup win, it seems nearly impossible that anything could top the experience of winning a Grade 1 with a New York-bred, at a New York track, at a time when wins carry with them an especial sweetness.
“We’ve been through ups and downs, and this is a real upper,” said Judith. “It will have real therapeutic value.”
“We’re like a good lightweight fighter trying to fight with heavyweight fighters for 50 years,” said her husband. “And occasionally, something good happens.”