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 is carded as Race 10 on Saturday's 11-race program.
||Uno Mas Modelo
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|Richard Violette, Jr.
|Uriah St. Lewis
||Thunder Snow (IRE)
|Saeed bin Suroor
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.
Thunder Snow (6-1)
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.
Carlino taking 'big step up' in Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup,
Courtlandt Farm's homebred Carlino (30-1), a 1 ½-length winner of an optional claimer on August 26, will try to play the role of spoiler for trainer Mark Hennig in the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday.
Installed at 30-1 on the morning line for the Gold Cup, Carlino earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure for his latest effort, closing from last of six to win the 1 1/8-mile route, his first race at shorter than 1 3/8 miles since finishing third in the Mr. Sinatra in March. Following the Mr. Sinatra, the 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid gelding was fourth in the Flat Out and then finished fifth behind Hoppertunity in Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational in June, his first graded stakes try.
His pacesetting trip in the 1 ¾-mile Birdstone on August 2 at Saratoga encouraged Hennig to cut Carlino back in distance in an effort to get him back to his preferred, off-the-pace running style.
"We felt like in that last race, he really appreciated having an honest pace in front of him," said Hennig. "We tried stretching him out in those marathon races and he ended up on the lead in one of them, which is just not the way he wants to run. So, we backed him up in that allowance race and it worked.
"Then watching the Woodward, it looked like a lot of those horses weren't coming at the end, and he's a horse that's always coming at the end," he added. "Obviously, it's a big step up in class, but we feel like it's an opportunity to let him try and get a piece of it. He's run well at a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and a quarter, but I think it's also a matter of getting a legitimate pace. I felt like in this race, we've got a good shot to get a legitimate pace."
Carlino will be cross-entered in Sunday's $200,000 Temperence Hill Invitational at 1 5/8 miles as a Plan B, said Hennig, in the event that the weather gets temperamental before this weekend.
"In the Temperence Hill, we probably won't get that same kind of pace, but he's not a big fan of mud or slop and it doesn't cost us anything to enter, so we're going to put him in there just in case something strange happens and he doesn't run Saturday," said Hennig. "I don't foresee that, but just in case."
Loooch Racing's Paolucci brings pair to test Grade 1 competition
Trainer Anthony Quartarolo will saddle Uno Mas Modelo in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 ¼ miles at Belmont Park.
The 5-year-old Macho Uno gelding will stretch out from his regular role as a closer in sprint company. Uno Mas Modelo is coming off three straight wins, including two strong finishes to remain perfect through two starts this summer at Saratoga.
The Kentucky-bred has won 6-of-27 career starts and has been a different horse since debuting with blinkers four starts back at Thistledown, displaying a quick turn-of-foot to finish second on May 12 before registering three straight victories.
The gelding will represent last year's second leading owner in victories Ron Paolucci's Loooch Racing Stables, who finished 2017 with 159 wins. The Akron, Ohio native owns roughly 120 horses in training, and hopes to add a victory in this year's Gold Cup which is part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" challenge.
"This horse, since we put blinkers on him, has been an absolute freak," Paolucci said. "If you watch his last eighth of a mile, even in his race at Thistledown, I've never had a horse come that fast that quick with that kind of turn of foot. He's bred to go longer. He's not a big horse, but he's kind of athletic and just the way he finishes up. I'm a big believer that if you can go seven-eighths, you can run any distance. It's the toughest distance in racing to run in my opinion. He breaks like a rocket. The last two races the rider chose to take him back. Javier [Castellano] said that he could have pressed the pace in his last race if he wanted to. He's just that kind of horse."
Although stepping up against Grade 1 competition, Paolucci said the race is wide open, with the exception of multiple Grade 1 winner Diversify, who looks to repeat his front-running victory in the Grade 1 Whitney on August 4 at Saratoga.
"I was looking at who is in the race, and obviously Diversify is going to be very tough to beat," he said. "The rest of the field to me is very suspect, so I figured now's the time to take a shot."
Loooch and Quartarolo will test Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt winner Imperial Hint with 5-year-old gelding Sightforsoreeyes in Saturday's Grade 1 Vosburgh. The son of Sightseeing is one of three debuting off a claim and stepping up to their first Grade 1 in the Vosburgh. The Kentucky-bred trained by Anthony Quartarolo is the lone entrant amid the field of seven that will make his first start at Belmont Park, and will do so wearing blinkers for the first time.
"I wanted to cut him back and put blinkers on when I first got him," Paolucci said. "He's kept some good company: Leofric, Petrov, and some good horses. He's right there with them. I wanted to cut him back, and I didn't have this spot in mind when I claimed him. I was thinking a one-turn mile."
Previously trained by Doug Anderson, Sightforsoreeyes makes his seventh start this year and 25th of his career and brings four victories to his credit, including a 1 1/4 length win against allowance foes at Prairie Meadows on July 13. The gelding failed to hit the board in his three starts at Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Oaklawn Park respectively.
After a few fourth- and third-place finishes against open claiming competition, Sightforsoreeyes tried the turf at Canterbury, where he was outkicked for fourth then returned and folded to ninth in his second grass start at Kentucky Downs before being claimed.