A trend in the past decade of repeat winners and an impeccable 8-6-2-0 mark at Belmont Park are among the factors in Diversify‘s favor in his title defense of the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), the historic 1 1/4-mile test that is one of three “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge preps at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Winner of the Gold Cup in wire-to-wire fashion by one length a year ago, the New York-bred will be a strong favorite to repeat following impressive victories in the Suburban (G2) and Whitney (G1) in his last two starts. Curlin (2007-08), Flat Out (2011-12), and Tonalist (2014-15) are other recent stars to double-up in the Gold Cup.
“He’s a very good racehorse, he’s fit, and the time since the Whitney should give us a fresh horse going into this,” trainer Rick Violette said in advance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) prelude.
The other leading older contender in the Gold Cup is Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Thunder Snow, who won the Meydan feature in March by 5 3/4 lengths over champion West Coast. He trailed a field of eight in the Juddmonte International (G1) at York, a race he likely needed following a near five-month layoff.
The leading three-year-old candidates are last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Mendelssohn, a solid, pace-setting second to Catholic Boy in last month’s Travers (G1), and Gronkowski, only eighth in the Travers after a second-place effort to Triple Crown winner Justify in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
An excellent renewal of the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1), a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) over 1 1/2 miles, features Arlington Million (G1) winner Robert Bruce. He looks to make amends for his sixth-place effort in the Manhattan (G1) earlier in the season at Belmont, where he finished behind Spring Quality, Sadler’s Joy, and Man o’ War (G1) winner Hi Happy.
“He’s doing real well and I’m thrilled with the way that horse is moving,” trainer Chad 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.”
Spring Quality, a late withdrawal from the Million after not shipping well, was re-routed to the Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga, where he finished third with Hi Happy and Sadler’s Joy unplaced.
“I thought the Sword Dancer turned into a bit of a tricky race,” trainer Graham Motion said. “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.”
Second in the Sword Dancer was Channel Maker, previously a dead-heat winner of the Bowling Green (G2) with Glorious Empire, his Sword Dancer conqueror. The lone three-year-old in the Turf Classic is Carrick, upset winner of the Secretariat (G1) last time at odds of 38-1.
The other “Win & You’re In” race is the $350,000 Vosburgh (G1), a six-furlong prep for the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Last year’s Sprint runner-up Imperial Hint will be heavily favored to beat six rivals after notching the True North (G2) and Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) over the summer.
The Saturday card also features the $200,000 Pilgrim (G3), a 1 1/16-mile inner turf test that serves as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Opry and Somelikeithotbrown, one-two in the With Anticipation (G3) last month, and last-out Saratoga maiden winner Forty Under are among the leading contenders.