08/19/2007 11:00PM

Jim DiVito: Veteran wins his share with solid stable


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The longer you watch trainer Jim DiVito, the more you appreciate him. DiVito sits far from the land of the modern super-trainer. His is not a 30-percent-win kind of barn, nor does he have many stakes horses, and even though his stable has grown in recent years, it still numbers less than 30 during this Arlington Park meet.

Yet year in and year out, at Hawthorne and at Arlington, with horses of all types, DiVito wins races - and not just at short prices. His runners show flat-bet profitability in 19 of the 39 categories tracked by Daily Racing Form trainer statistics. Nor does his barn go through wild fluctuations: DiVito has won with 22 percent of his starters in 2007, and over Arlington's Polytrack, with its vast difference from the dirt track at Hawthorne Race Course, DiVito is right there at a 21 percent win clip.

DiVito, 57, is one of the elder statesmen of Chicago racing. He started working for his father, the trainer Pete DiVito, at age 14, and his father worked on the racetrack for 60 years, according to DiVito. After a stint as a jockey curtailed by weight, DiVito began galloping horses, and has done so for 37 years, working for major outfits like Spendthrift Farm and trainer Ron McAnally.

Divito said that from his father he "learned all the important things, all the horsemanship." And what he didn't pick up in the family, DiVito figured out from astride a horse and watching the trainers for whom he worked. DiVito took out his trainer's license in 1973, operated a smaller claiming outfit for years, but has grown steadily, and now carries close to 30 head on a regular basis. He takes a select string to Gulfstream Park for the winter, but his main business is in Chicago, both at Hawthorne and Arlington. Unlike many Chicago outfits that point for one meet or the other, DiVito wins at a consistent clip regardless of the season.

"You've got to rotate your stock around for Hawthorne and Arlington," he said. "They're two different types of racetracks, and you've got to have the right horses for the right races."

DiVito's operation now focuses more on younger horses than claimers, but he will claim a handful of horses throughout the year, and most of his carefully considered claims pan out.

"We take five or six a year, and we usually move them up," said DiVito. "We wait and we look for Illinois-breds that look like they can win their conditions yet."

Conner's Brittany is a more recent example of Illinois-bred claiming, but DiVito and owner Robert Neumeyer had a major run with an Illinois-bred named Storm the Beach a couple years ago, a horse taken out of a $10,000 conditioned claiming race. DiVito, with minimal starters in both categories, shows an ROI of $2.11 in his first start off the claim, and a boxcar figure of $5.22 second off the claim. In other words, don't hesitate to forecast significant improvement for a horse new to his barn.

DiVito gets five or six new 2-year-olds a year, and he tends to make the most of them, too. Already this Arlington season, DiVito has struck with two first-time starters in 2-year-old maiden races, including West Coast Coach, who paid some $79 when he won an open maiden-special-weight race, and Chief What, who captured an Illinois-bred maiden-special.

Those winners boosted DiVito's debut win percentage to 17, but he is not one to push every young horse to win early, nor does he even have the means to do so if that were a desired goal.

"Some horses you can train to a race to perform well, some horses just won't do it," DiVito said. "It's hard to create a race-like atmosphere for first-time horses and young horses in the morning with a small stable. I can do it on a small scale."

In other words, if a horse can be precocious, DiVito has the capability to bring that out. But at this point he has seen enough stock and feels comfortable enough with his knowledge base to treat each horse individually.

"My style of training, more or less, is let the horse do the talking, to try and pay attention to the details when a horse is coming up to a race," DiVito said. "I go horse by horse, and I can do that, because I'm pretty much hands-on."

Even with more 2-year-olds coming in, the best thing DiVito has going right now is 6-year-old Coach Jimi Lee, who holds the Illinois state record for six furlongs, and has won sprint stakes all over the place. Coach Jimi Lee went down with a splint bone injury, but he'll be back, and DiVito has spotted the horse and managed him admirably throughout his long career.

No surprise, since when DiVito gets his hands on a decent animal, he seems to make the most of it.