08/09/2006 12:00AM

Divide and Conquer smooth so far

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DEL MAR, Calif. - For the moment, trainer Don Chatlos is content talking down the prospects of Divide and Conquer, a promising 2-year-old who starts in Sunday's $150,000 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar. Divide and Conquer beat maidens convincingly in his debut at Hollywood Park on July 15, but Chatlos has been raving about an unraced colt by Buddha, who may start soon.

"I'm going to keep saying Divide and Conquer is not the best, and I hope he'll keep us going all the way to Churchill Downs in November," he said, referring to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Chatlos may have a stronger opinion on Sunday after Divide and Conquer makes his stakes debut in the Best Pal at 6 1/2 furlongs.

The colt ran an impressive race against maidens, rallying from seventh to win by 2 3/4 lengths.

"Physically, I didn't think he'd need a race," Chatlos said. "Mentally, I wasn't sure how he'd handle the whole thing of going over there and if he got dirt in his face. We had to show things to him a few times before he got it. He's smarter than we thought he is."

More important, Divide and Conquer is sound, and not fighting the pesky injuries that can plague a 2-year-old, Chatlos said.

"This horse has not had a problem," Chatlos said. "I was so surprised at Hollywood that he didn't come up with something. He's just one of those 2-year-olds that from his maiden race he's just progressed. He's put on weight. Sometimes, they'll melt on you. He's handled everything thrown at him."

Chatlos, 40, admits to being in new territory with a 2-year-old capable of running in a summer stakes. Four years ago, Chatlos oversaw the development of Singletary, who won his debut in October 2002 and made his stakes debut in December of that year. Singletary went on to win the 2004 Breeders' Cup Mile and was the first major stakes winner for Chatlos and the Little Red Feather partnership, which also owns Divide and Conquer.

Chatlos and Little Red Feather haven't had a top horse since Singletary retired last winter. Singletary won 8 of 22 starts and earned $1,754,312.

"There was a big drop-off," he said.

Singletary helped to establish the Little Red Feather syndicate, which is managed by Billy Koch, 36. Little Red Feather was formed in 2002, and Singletary was the second horse the group acquired.

Koch organizes the partnerships, with different individuals grouped on the ownership of different horses. Divide and Conquer belongs to a group of 20 owners who share three horses, including the well-regarded Buddha colt, named Zaruba.

Little Red Feather has 11 horses with Chatlos, mostly 2- and 3-year-olds, Koch said.

The Little Red Feather team is easy to spot when they win: Just look for a large, boisterous group. The enthusiasm has resulted in some animosity from rival horsemen, but Koch makes no apologies.

"It's so hard to win races that when you do, it's special," he said. "We're excited to win. This is a what-have-you-done-lately business. We need to show people that Little Red Feather will be around for a while."

Chatlos and Koch are already having a memorable week. Thursday afternoon, the cast of the popular HBO comedy "Entourage" was scheduled to film a scene at Chatlos's stable for an episode that will air in the spring.

Koch, who worked in the film industry before devoting his time to Little Red Feather, is an adviser to the show.

In the episode, Johnny Drama, the character played by Kevin Dillon, attempts to buy a horse. Koch was coy about the rest of the story.

"We can't give away the plot," he said.

Sunday, his colt Divide and Conquer may have his own star turn.