Divining Rod returns with emphatic score
by Frank Vespe
The first time Daniel Centeno looked back, there was still a half-mile to run in Saturday afternoon’s $75,000 Polynesian Stakes at Laurel Park.
At that moment, the message couldn’t have been clearer: Divining Rod is back and hasn’t lost a step. And this is one mount Centeno plans to hang onto.
Making his five-year-old debut today, Divining Rod was simply too strong for his four rivals, romping to a 6 1/4-length victory in a sharp time of 1:22.07 for seven furlongs over a muddy, sealed Laurel Park main track.
With the win, the Lael Stables runner, trained by Arnaud Delacour, served notice that he’ll be looking to assume a position towards the front rank of middle-distance runners this season. The Grade 3 winner concluded last year with runner-up efforts in the Grade 2 Fayette and, most impressively, in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, in which he was beaten just a head by Connect. The latter was his first try in blinkers.
“It looks like the older he gets, he’s getting better,” Centeno said. “Since we put the blinkers on, he changed completely. The last time he ran, he ran a huge race in the Cigar Mile.”
And while the competition was hardly Grade 1 caliber today, it wasn’t too shabby, either. His rivals included Grade 3-placed Vorticity, stakes winner Royal Squeeze, and hard-hitting local Rockinn on Bye, with over $400,000 in the bank.
They were no match for Divining Rod, a homebred Tapit horse for Lael Stables’ Roy and Gretchen Jackson.
“From the three-eighths pole, I had way too much horse,” Centeno said, and that certainly was true.
With Feargal Lynch sending Royal Squeeze for the lead from the outside, Centeno and Divining Rod quickly were able to secure a good stalking position to that runner’s outside. Royal Squeeze guided the field through an opening quarter-mile in 23.44 seconds and a half in 47.06, with Divining Rod gradually turning up the heat and Vorticity poised behind those two.
Nearing the quarter pole, Divining Rod moved up smoothly — and without movement from Centeno — to cruise past Royal Squeeze. The race, for all intents and purposes, was over.
“He switched leads at the eighth pole and he was just dragging me,” Centeno said.
Divining Rod zipped the last eighth of a mile in less than 12 seconds over a tiring course that led to plenty of slow times — except for this one.
Vorticity held second, and Rockinn on Bye rallied into third. Divining Rod paid just $3 to win as the 1-2 choice, and the exacta returned just $6.60.
If there’d been any question about Divining Rod’s readiness to run, it came from his lengthy layoff. He’d last run in November’s Cigar Mile and then gotten some time off for what Delacour described as “a bit of an issue.” He arrived here today with a half-dozen recorded works in the bank, three of them bullets. He’d also run well off the layoff previously.
Centeno, who rode Divining Rod in three of the horse’s four 2016 starts, said he had not been on him in the mornings but that he’d gone up to Fair Hill “a couple of times” to see him. “He was doing so great,” Centeno said.
Centeno and Delacour have teamed up successfully time and again in recent years, winning 53 races in the last two years, eight stakes among them. They were five-for-12 at the current meet prior to today’s action.
During the current Laurel Park meet, Centeno’s earnings per start times $2 wagering return on investment is 6.8 times as high as the median rider’s, and Delacour’s is 8.4 times as high as the median trainer’s. Both figures are the highest in the colony.
It is a partnership that looks likely to continue.
“I’m grateful that he (Delacour) gives me the opportunity, the Jacksons and all the owners,” Centeno said. “(Delacour and I) have a really good connection, we talk a lot about the horses, about the races and we watch the replays. We got good communication. Any time he needs me, I’ll be there for him.”