After three years, 16 starts, and two grade 1 wins, Divisidero, his connections noticed, had become set in his ways. As good as the son of Kitten's Joy is when in his comfort zone, the hope for his 6-year-old season is that it is not too late to get him to change for the better.
Whenever the calendar has flipped to May, a switch has gone off within the hard-knocking charge owned by Gunpowder Farms—he is unbeaten in four career starts during this particular month. Just when it seems his form is heating up along with the weather, the millionaire inevitably starts heading the wrong direction, taking until the following spring to get himself right once more.
There are worse things than having a horse who will reliably peak—and snag some top-level wins along the way—but it has also been a source of frustration knowing the horse is leaving the full brunt of his potential on the table. So after a change of scenery, a change of barns, and some thorough blood work, Divisidero will aim to use his old ways to launch his new, best self for 2018 when he makes his season debut in the $200,000 Monmouth Stakes (G2T) May 26 against six others over the Monmouth Park turf course.
"We're trying to unlock the secret to get him to win beyond May and show his form throughout the season," said owner Tom Keithley of Gunpowder Farms. "I think that's the knock we all hear about him is he's a fabulous horse and he's really run some compelling races, but then he sort of disappears. So we're hoping this season to get that solved. That's what we're trying to do."
After capturing the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (G1T) at Churchill Downs for a second straight year last May— defeating the likes of grade 1 winner and eventual Eclipse Award finalist Beach Patrol in the process—Divisidero once more looked poised for a huge second half of the year. Instead, he finished off the board in his final three starts, with his last race ending in a fourth-place effort in the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (G1T) at Keeneland Oct. 7.
Following that outing, Keithley said they ran a battery of tests on the horse sensing something "wasn't quite right." When his veterinarian said some of his metabolic parameters were out of whack, one suggestion was to get Divisidero in a setting where he could spend more time outdoors outside of training hours—hence, the decision to shift the venerable turf runner from the barn of Buff Bradley, who had conditioned him throughout his career, to Kelly Rubley, who is based at bucolic Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.
"We landed on Fair Hill because we have a string there, and they have paddocks based outside," Keithley said. "It was obviously mixed feelings because we didn't want to pull him from Buff, we've had a long and successful relationship with Buff, and we were very hesitant to do it. But at the end of the day, you do what's best for the horse.
"We have re-pulled some of his blood panels and been watching his metabolic rates, and we see now that he looks a picture. And the blood test now is normal. Now we need to find out when he goes to the starting gate, does he run like we know he can … and then can we go to the next race and do that, and the next race and do that."
The initial plan to start Divisidero back in the Dixie Stakes (G3T) at Pimlico Race Course last weekend was scrapped when that race came off the turf due to soaking rain that drenched the area. Should all go well in the Monmouth Stakes, one of the added goals going forward would be to find the best path to a potential run in the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which are being held this year at his favorite stomping grounds of Churchill Downs.
"The hard question is either eight (furlongs in the Breeders' Cup Mile) or 12 (furlongs in the Breeders' Cup Turf)," Keithley said. "We believe he has the ability to win at eight furlongs … we don't know about the 12 furlongs because he's never won at 10. So we'll see. We're going to see how the year goes.
"We took a huge chance moving him to say, 'OK, more sunshine, more grass, a more natural setting.' And we don't know if it's going to work or not work. But all the signs are telling us that is it working, so we'll see."
A successful debut for Divisidero would mark the first career graded stakes win for Rubley, who has about 50 horses at Fair Hill and who previously worked as an assistant to Barclay Tagg and Jimmy Toner. Divisidero will have to get by defending Monmouth Stakes winner Money Multiplier, grade 1 winner Force the Pass, as well as graded stakes winners Projected and Frostmourne, who was also entered in the Dixie Stakes before the forced surface switch.
Money Multiplier is aiming to halt a five-race losing skid that has built up since his triumph in this test last season. The Chad Brown-trained son of Lookin At Lucky acquitted himself well overseas in his most recent outing, placing third in the Feb. 24 H.H. The Emirs Trophy Presented by Longines (G1) in Doha.
Monmouth Park, Saturday, May 26, 2018, Race 12
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Murad Khan (FR) Horacio Karamanos 116 Mary E. Eppler 12/1 2 2Projected (GB) Jose L. Ortiz 116 Chad C. Brown 3/1 3 3Money Multiplier (KY) Joe Bravo 116 Chad C. Brown 5/2 4 4Divisidero (KY) Jevian Toledo 116 Kelly Rubley 4/1 5 5Force the Pass (KY) Paco Lopez 118 Alan E. Goldberg 9/2 6 6Doctor Mounty (KY) Antonio A. Gallardo 116 Claude R. McGaughey III 8/1 7 7Frostmourne (KY) Joel Rosario 116 Christophe Clement 4/1
Monmouth Park, Saturday, May 26, 2018, Race 12