Diversify can get in a groove. The front-running gelding came out of nowhere last year with an impressive three-race win string capped by the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and has gotten very good in recent months, stretching his present win streak to three with a decisive 3 ½-length score in Saturday’s Whitney (G1) at Saratoga.
“I wanted to be on the lead and he did everything right for me,” jockey Irad Ortiz said. “He was ready.”
Diversify has posted triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings in his last five wins, including a 114 for a spectacular 6 ½-length tally in the 1 ¼-mile Suburban (G2) at Belmont Park on July 7, and is thriving at age 5 for trainer Rick Violette. The November 3 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs represents the ultimate goal this fall for the New York-bred son of Bellamy Road.
Mr Freeze emerged as a possible Travers (G1) player three weeks later when romping by eight lengths in Saturday’s West Virginia Derby (G3), notching his first stakes triumph with a wire-to-wire decision at Mountaineer. From a stamina-infused female family, the Dale Romans-trained son of To Honor and Serve registered an outstanding 107 BRIS Speed rating in his fourth start and Mr Freeze didn’t launch his racing career until mid-April.
“He ran really well,” Romans said. “We think he’s a special horse and I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the best of him.”
Late-blooming types have made a major impact in the three-year-old division over the second half of the season the last two years (Arrogate and West Coast).
Diversify would be in prime position if the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic was held at Belmont. He loves the 1 ½-mile oval known as “Big Sandy” (8-6-2-0 record) but Thoroughbred racing’s championship event hasn’t been held in the Empire State since 2005. He remains a leading contender but must carry his form elsewhere to earn the Eclipse Award for champion older dirt male. And that provides a sense of optimism for some rivals.
“He’s a good New York-bred, but we look forward to seeing him down the road,” said Chad Summers, trainer and co-owner of Whitney runner-up Mind Your Biscuits. “He struggled at Churchill. We think we’re going to love Churchill.”
After connections elected to bypass last year’s Classic at Del Mar, Diversify concluded 2017 with a weakening fourth as the 7-5 favorite in the Clark H. (G1) under the Twin Spires, his first attempt outside of New York. He came back this year with a disappointing seventh as the 6-5 choice in the Charles Town Classic (G2).
Those experiences are far from ideal but I’m not discounting Diversify’s Classic hopes. Based on the last two powerful displays, he’s become more formidable than last year when regressing in the Clark off a huge effort in his graded stakes debut (Jockey Club Gold Cup). Or when returning flat in the 2018 opener at Charles Town.
The Classic pace scenario, i.e. the amount early speed he’ll face up front, is more important than travel concerns because Diversify can run the competition into the ground if allowed to dictate tactics unopposed.
Three weeks is a relatively quick turnaround nowadays and a serious class check awaits Mr Freeze if he wheels back for the August 25 Travers. Romans said no decision has been made yet but will prepare his charge for a Travers bid, and the colt’s early speed is certainly intriguing considering the lack of pace we witnessed the previous weekend in the Curlin Stakes, Jim Dandy (G2) and Haskell Invitational (G1).
In fact, Justify and Promises Fulfilled have been the only legitimate early speed in divisional two-turn graded route races since early May. And they’re not running in the Travers, which has been captured in wire-to-wire fashion the last two years by Arrogate and West Coast.
Mr Freeze ran fast in the West Virginia Derby, clocking 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.95. His final time was more than two seconds faster than any of the past 10 runnings and is flattered by the 1:42.72 Leofric needed to complete 1 1/16 miles in his West Virginia Governor’s (G3) victory one race earlier.
He’s won three-of-four starts, improving upon a close but troubled Iowa Derby (G3) runner-up showing in which he was forced to steady and extricate himself from traffic in the stretch, and there’s no telling how high the ceiling will reach for Mr Freeze.
“He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with later in the year, especially with (Justify) retired,” jockey Robby Albarado said. “He can be something good.”