When Diversify and Mind Your Biscuits finished first and second in the Whitney Handicap on Saturday you might have thought that this feature race was restricted to New York-breds as opposed to a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Truth be told, the top two finishers are just the latest chapter that registered state-breds from the Empire State have written in the historic Saratoga Grade 1 race.
Now, four times New York-breds have won the Whitney beginning in 1981 with Fio Rito, who became the first locally-bred horse to win any Grade 1 race. From very modest beginnings, the grey son of Dreaming Native, who was based and did the majority of his racing at Finger Lakes, upset a stellar Whitney field that included Winter’s Tale and Noble Nashua. The durable runner compiled a career record of 50:28-8-6 with earnings of $584,142.
Commentator, who ranks seventh in all-time earnings for a New York-bred, won the Whitney twice in 2005 and 2008. Far more fashionably parented than Fio Rito, the chestnut gelding was sired by Distorted Humor and sold as a yearling for $135,000 to Tracy Farmer. Commentator put together a career record of 24: 14-1-4 that brought home purses of $2,049,845. Although he was frequently seen running in graded stakes company and finished in the money many times, his two victories in the Whitney were the only times that he found the winner’s circle at that level.
When Diversify won this year’s Whitney in gate to wire fashion, he notched his second career Grade 1 race and moved up to eighth on the New York-bred money list just behind Commentator. Included in the 10 wins that he has on his resume is a victory in the Commentator Stakes on May 26th of this year.
When the skies opened up and torrential rains came down and delayed the start of the Whitney, it sure did not bother Diversify. The Rick Violette trainee, burst out of the gate to an easy lead and relished the sloppy going. On that day it looked like there wasn’t a horse in the country that could beat him.
“He is such a cool horse,” said Violette. “Irad [jockey Ortiz, Jr.] really threw down the gauntlet at the half-mile pole. He [Diversify] didn’t quite drag him down there, but Irad said ‘Let’s go’ and dared anybody to catch up.”
And then there is Mind Your Biscuits, who is the leading New York-bred money winner of all-time with earnings of $4,159,286. His trainer Chad Summers was thinking outside of the box when he trained his 5-year-old star sprinter to make the first two-turn of his career in the Grade 1.
The second-place finish was an admirable effort for Mind Your Biscuits, and Summers as always had a lot to say.
“I was really excited, I thought Diversify might get just a little bit tired, but Diversify just kept going. Great job by Rick [Violette], to have him ready. We just let him get a little bit too loose. We were afraid of that. Our strategy, our plan was that if he got loose to just make a little bit of an early move and try and get to him and come up to him. We were too far back and he had too much left.”
Over the years, the Whitney has become a fixture for New York-breds and in the end it was a state-bred exacta in 2018. For the bettors that had a New York state of mind in Saratoga on the first Saturday in August, the $2 payoff for the top two choices was $20.60.
Photo of Diversify courtesy of NYRA, Elsa Lorieul