SARATOGA SPRINGS — No American racetrack gets ambushed by thunderstorms as often as Saratoga does. Within a half-hour late Saturday afternoon, sunshine gave way to a downpour that turned the $1.2-million Whitney Stakes into a mud bath.
As lightning pushed back post time by 44 minutes, most of the crowd of 40,306 ran for cover. The field of eight circled endlessly in the sloppy paddock. When the sun returned and the gates finally opened, the delay and muck was no problem for the 8-5 favorite, Diversify.
Irad Ortiz Jr., Saratoga’s leading rider, immediately gunned the 5-year-old New York-bred gelding to the lead, and they never gave it up. Despite setting fast fractions — 23.22 seconds for a quarter-mile, 46.50 for a half — Diversify kept improving his position.
He opened up by 3 1/2 lengths going into the far turn before fellow New York-bred Mind Your Biscuits moved on the outside. There were no anxious moments for trainer Rick Violette as Diversify cruised past the wire 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Mind Your Biscuits, a standout sprinter-miler trying 1 1/8 miles for the first time.
Mind Your Biscuits finished a half-length in front of 38-1 shot Discreet Lover, who was 6 1/4 lengths clear of Tapwrit, 0-for-4 since taking last year’s Belmont Stakes. Behind them came Good Samaritan, McCraken, Backyard Heaven and Dalmore.
Violette had gone back and forth about waiting to run here Sept. 1 in the Woodward. Diversify made the decision for him.
“Everything he did said, ‘Run,’ ‘’ Violette said. “He ate well up here, he trained well up here. It was like ‘OK, stupid, stop being a chicken and bring him over.’ ”
He was thrilled he did. Ortiz used the same strategy on a sloppy, sealed track that produced a 6½-length runaway on a fast surface July 7 in the 1¼-mile Suburban at Belmont Park.
“I wanted to be on the lead,” Ortiz said. “He did everything right for me. He was ready.”
Weather played a major role even before the races began. Because 2.3 inches of overnight rain had drenched the two grass courses, the card’s last two races, turf stakes, were rescheduled for next weekend. The Lure will go Saturday, the Waya on Sunday. Without races 10 and 11, six multirace wagers were canceled, depriving the New York Racing Association of at least a million in handle.
Diversify paid $5.20 for his third consecutive win and 10th victory in 15 races. He earned $650,000 for Lauren and Ralph Evans, raising his career total to $1,959,425.
“All the horses had the same delay,” Violette said. “They had their tack on in the paddock for an hour and they all behaved remarkably well. You want the race to go, but safety comes first.”
During the trophy ceremony in the winner’s circle, a rainbow appeared above the trees beyond the stretch turn. If you believe in racing gods, you figured they were trying to apologize for all the inconvenience. Nah, just chalk it up to another bizarre day at the Spa.