Happy 100th birthday to the Jockey Club Gold Cup
By Matt Shifman
The Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, one of Belmont Park’s iconic races, celebrates its 100th birthday this Saturday. Over the years, the Gold Cup distance has changed from two miles, which was the measure from 1921 to 1975, to its current ten furlongs. The remarkable Kelso won the two-mile test of endurance five years in a row from 1960 to 1964 en route to his five Horse of the Year titles.
The morning line favorite in this year’s race Diversify is looking to repeat his wire to wire victory in the Gold Cup. If he succeeds, he will join an elite club of back-to-back winners that includes the likes of Tonalist, Flat Out, Curlin, Skip Away, Crème Fraiche, Slew o’ Gold, Shuvee, the aforementioned Kelso, Nashua, Dark Secret, and Mad Hatter.
Along with the $750,000 purse, the Jockey Club Gold Cup is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series and offers a “Win and You’re In” spot into the Classic. There are two other Breeders’ Cup qualifiers on the Saturday card at Belmont Park – the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) offers a spot in the Turf and the Vosburgh (G1) for the Sprint.
Diversify has a significant home track advantage over the field of eight. Overall, the New York-bred has won six out of eight starts at Belmont Park which includes his last four in a row on Big Sandy.
Diversify appears to be at his best now as a 5-year-old. His last two victories in the Suburban (G2) and the Whitney (G1) both earned 110 Beyer Speed Figures, tops for his 15-race career in which the speedy colt has won 10 times.
Trainer Rick Violette Jr. talked about Diversify’s 2018 campaign, “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. 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.”
Diversify may face a challenge on the front end from Mendelssohn and Thunder Snow. The two European invaders like to run on or near the lead and they both recorded their most recent victories on the dirt track at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai in the March in flashy frontrunning fashion.
Gronkowski, who is now being trained by Chad Brown after his Belmont Stakes runner-up finish behind Justify, will be hoping that the return to Belmont Park and a fast early pace will help his chances to upset the favorite.
“There’s a lot of marbles on the table. A big race is a big race and there’s some nice horses in there,” Violette added. “He’s [Diversify] 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.”
The Gold Cup, which is carded as Race 10 on Saturday’s 11-race program and has a 5:50 p.m. ET post time, will be broadcast on Belmont Park Live 4-6 p.m. ET on MSG+.