With a perfectly timed move by Bernie Dalton, Flying Elvis Stable’s Diplomat burst to the front in Saratoga Race Course’s stretch and drew away to an three-length victory in Thursday’s 76th edition of the $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1).
Near the bottom of the handicap weights but improving in his last two starts for trainer Kate Dalton after a long drought, Diplomat went off at 17.70-to-to-1 and paid $37.40 to win after running the New York Turf Writers’ 2 3/8 miles in 4:29.90 on firm turf.
Robert A. Kinsley’s Modem, second in Saratoga’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) and the 2-to-1 favorite in Saratoga’s premier steeplechase race, finished second, and 5-to-1 second betting pick All the Way Jose picked up third money, 1 3/4 lengths farther back.
Petticoats Loose Farm’s Choral Society finished fourth, and Smithwick winner Swansea Mile was fifth in a field of 10. Portrade, last year’s front-running New York Turf Writers winner, and overseas shipper Colla Pier were scratched.
Diplomat is the one-horse embodiment of the longtime dream of Flying Elvis owners Adam and Richard Newman to own steeplechase horses. Active in New York flat racing, the brothers often discussed owning jump horses, and in the waning days of the 2015 Saratoga meet, Adam Newman decided to claim Diplomat from an optional claimer.
“I called Richard and told him I was going to claim Diplomat. He immediately said, ‘I’m in,’” said Adam Newman, who resides in Charlotte, N.C.
They also knew where they wanted their one-horse stable to be located and with whom. The Newmans winter their horses in Camden, S.C., and they met Kate and Bernie Dalton there. The husband-and-wife team all but define hands-on, performing just about all the work on their small stable at the Camden Training Center. “If I were got involved in steeplechase racing, I wanted to have my horses with them.”
For a while, the Newmans’ entry into the jumps game looked like a stroke of genius. In his second start for the new owners, the Kitten’s Joy gelding, then six, won the International Gold Cup’s David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 3) with Bernie Dalton in the saddle.
Then came the drought–a long, long drought all the way to the 2017 Saratoga meet. In recent months, Diplomat had shown improvement, most recently a third in the Smithwick Memorial, albeit more than 15 lengths behind Swansea Mile.
The Daltons discussed how to capitalize on Diplomat’s improvement and settled on an equipment change, deciding on Monday to remove blinkers. “It seemed there was going to be a lot of pace in the race to run at, and we were thinking that we wanted to sit back with him a little bit this time and come with a run,” the trainer said.
Even without the presence of Portrade, the New York Turf Writers had more than adequate pace with Maram Ltd.’s Alcazar de Maram showing the way under Gerard Galligan. Approaching the last of nine fences, Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose moved forward under leading jockey Darren Nagle and took the lead at the last.
Modem and jockey Jack Doyle made their move nearing the last, and Bernie Dalton tracked the favorite. It was a wise choice. Modem moved toward the front on the turn, with Diplomat in his wake. Dalton tipped his mount out to the outside at the top of the stretch to see what would happen.
Diplomat provided him with the boost he was hoping for. When the jockey pulled the trigger, “he just quickened right up and came and won.”
Kate Dalton said Diplomat also benefited from an 18-pound break in the weights from Modem. “He’s a lovely horse, and he tries all the time as hard as he can, but he’s not a very big horse. He’s had a lot of weight ups and downs, so having 138 pounds on him today was a real advantage,” she said.