Will Divisidero Rebound in the Arlington Million?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

One of my favorite days of racing each year is Arlington Million day, when Arlington Park in Illinois puts on an impressive card including three Grade 1 turf races that attract top-notch horses from around the world. The highlight each year is the $1 million Arlington Million (gr. I), a ten-furlong event that ranks as one of the most prestigious turf races in North America.

Twelve horses (Scottish is an early scratch) will contest the 2017 renewal of the Arlington Million, including one of my favorites horses in training--Divisidero. Let's take a look at the race!

Arlington Million (gr. I)

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a very big fan of Divisidero, having supported him faithfully since his maiden win 2 ½ years ago. Perhaps this also means I'm biased, but I believe Divisidero is sitting on a huge run in the Arlington Million.

At first glance, the son of Kitten's Joy might not appear to be an ideal fit for the Arlington Million. After all, he's 0-for-3 at the ten-furlong distance of the Arlington Million, and three of his four stakes wins have come at Churchill Downs, including two renewals of the nine-furlong Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. I). When he's taken on top-class competition going longer--most notably in two editions of the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont--he's been defeated.

But in my opinion, this says more about Divisidero's subtle preference for certain types of turf courses than it does about potential distance limitations. Over the very firm, very fast turf courses at Belmont Park and Gulfstream Park, Divisidero is at a distinct disadvantage since he lacks any meaningful tactical speed. He's much better suited to slower courses like Churchill Downs or Keeneland, where it's harder to produce fast finishing times and Divisidero's powerful late kick can be utilized to its greatest potential.

Even a brief glance at Divisidero's record hints at his preference for a specific type of course. He's 2-for-10 at Belmont and Gulfstream but 3-for-4 at Churchill Downs and Keeneland, with his lone defeat at those tracks coming by a nose in an allowance race at Keeneland.

As an example of the effect that fast courses can have on a horse like Divisidero, consider his three races going ten furlongs, all of which were at Belmont Park. In the 2015 Belmont Derby (gr. I), his debut at the distance, Divisidero was reserved in last place early on behind slow fractions of :50.30 and 1:15.38. When asked to quicken in the final quarter-mile, Divisidero did so and ran the distance in about :22 flat... which was only good enough to finish seventh since the leaders also finished in around :22 flat over the very fast course.

The following year, Divisidero employed a change in running style when contesting the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (gr. I), settling in third through fractions of :49.77 and 1:13.90. To his credit, he managed to finish in a bit more than :22 flat despite the change in tactics, but that only yielded a fifth-place finish behind Flintshire.

Divisidero's most recent attempt at ten furlongs came in this year's Manhattan Stakes, where he was again compromised by a slow pace over a very firm turf course. In a race where the final quarter-mile was timed in :21.99, making it virtually impossible for late runners to gain any significant ground, Divisidero more than held his own down the homestretch and was beaten just 2 ¼ lengths while finishing sixth.

Notably, Divisidero was sidelined with minor issues following both the Belmont Derby and the 2016 Manhattan Stakes, but he emerged from this year's Manhattan in good shape and has posted a solid series of workouts in preparation for the Arlington Million. The turf course at Arlington is generally much slower than the courses at Belmont and Gulfstream, being much more similar to the courses at Churchill Downs and Keeneland. In my opinion, the switch to Arlington could be the key to success for Divisidero, and I view him as by far the most likely winner among the North American runners in the Arlington Million. Don't forget, in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes two starts back, Divisidero overcame slow fractions of :50.69 and 1:15.45 over a "good" turf course to win with an impressive late rally. Give him the right type of course, and pace doesn't seem to bother him.

The main threat to Divisidero is probably Deauville, who ships in from Europe for trainer Aidan O'Brien. Last year, the son of Galileo won the Belmont Derby (gr. I) and finished a close third in the Arlington Million, but his form this year is better than ever. He's had a busy season with six starts dating back to March, but he's cracked the trifecta in five of those while facing some of the best horses in Europe. On May 28th he finished third in the 10.5-furlong Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, and on June 20th he was third by just 1 ½ lengths to Ribchester in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes going a mile at Royal Ascot.

With a career-best Racing Post Rating of 121 (earned in the Queen Anne), Deauville looms as a major threat to give O'Brien his third win in the Arlington Million, following the victories by Powerscourt in 2005 and Cape Blanco in 2011. Still, North American runners have historically been successful at defending their home turf in the Arlington Million (four of the last five winners were based in North America), and Deauville--although talented--probably isn't in quite the same league as Cape Blanco, who had already won Irish Derby (Ire-I) and Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I), or even Powerscourt, who had already earned six Racing Post Racings of 121 or higher, including a 122 for a win in the Tattersalls Gold Cup (Ire-I).

In any case, I view the Arlington Million as a two-horse showdown between Divisidero and Deauville. For the purpose of multi-race wagers, I believe using both would come close to locking up the race, but for the purposes of a win bet I have to side with Divisidero. His 0-for-3 record at ten furlongs and his recent defeat in the Manhattan Stakes figure to boost his odds into a very appealing price range, and if he goes off at 5-1 or higher, I would have to rank him as one of my "best bets" of the year. I'm expecting a very big run.

Another major player is Mekhtaal, winner of the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan in France earlier this year. While he might be a step or two below Deauville (his career-best Racing Post Rating is a 116), Mekhtaal has flashed good enough form on his best day to suggest that finishing in the trifecta or superfecta is within his capabilities. While at first glance his sixth-place finish last time out in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes isn't eye-catching, he was only beaten 3 ½ lengths against a deep field, and the first four horses across the finish line--Highland Reel, Decorated Knight, Ulysses, and Queen's Trust--are among the best in Europe.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Arlington Million?


The Unlocking Winners Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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