On Wednesday at Churchill Downs, a crowd clad mainly in Louisville basketball shirts gathered at Barn 45 to watch Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino as he visited a horse of which he owns five percent.
Pitino, a month removed from becoming the first coach in NCAA history to win Division I basketball national championship tournaments with two different schools, appeared at trainer Doug O'Neill's barn shortly after 8 a.m. and joined an entourage following Goldencents.
Pitino bought five percent of the colt for $3,100 and has called it the best investment he ever made.
Pitino and O'Neill grew close last year when the trainer saddled Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another. Pitino originally became interested in the sport, he said Wednesday, when he was hired to coach at Kentucky in 1989. He said he took recruits to nearby Claiborne Farm, where Secretariat lived until his death in October of that year.
"The kids would be in awe," Pitino said. "The parents all wanted to see the mighty Secretariat."
Pitino said he felt good about Goldencents' chances in the race, but also expressed hope that longtime trainer Shug McGaughey, who conditions Orb (a horse born at Claiborne), would finally win the Derby after 34 years.
O'Neill, who faced a barrage of questions about doping indiscretions last year and served a 45-day suspension following the Triple Crown, was his usual wry self. His barn bustled with grooms and assistants, and he joked with visitors.
When another former Louisville coach, Denny Crum, showed up, O'Neill quipped: "Pitino's on the other side, cleaning a stall."
Gorgui Dieng, a center for the Cardinals who has declared for the NBA draft, accompanied Pitino on Wednesday.
Dutrow to arrive Thursday
Tony Dutrow, who has stalls at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, will saddle surprise entrant Giant Finish in the 139th running of the Derby.
Owned by Andy Cohen — who was a member of the ownership team that ran Big Brown to wins in the first two legs of the 2008 Triple Crown — and several partners, the colt answers the question of what it takes for a horse to qualify under the new Kentucky Derby points system — at least this year.
Giant Finish will enter the race with just 10 points, earned when he finished third in the Grade III Spiral Stakes outside Cincinnati in late March. He knocked Fear the Kitten, with six points, onto the also-eligible list.
Churchill Downs implemented the points system to make it easier for casual fans to follow the chase for a spot in the Derby. Spots previously had been awarded based on graded earnings.
More than 30 horses earned 10 or more points but are off the Kentucky Derby trail for any number of reasons.
Bob Baffert, mired in a controversy surrounding the unexplained deaths of seven horses in 16 months, withdrew two horses Monday. The California-based conditioner hasn't been without a Derby starter since 2008.
Governor Charlie, who earned 50 points but suffered a bone bruise on April 11, has been pointed toward the Preakness.
Spots in the second leg of the Triple Crown in Baltimore are still determined by a tiered system that takes into account graded stakes, open stakes and total earnings.
Dutrow is the oldest son of Richard Dutrow Sr., a top trainer in Maryland for decades, and a Hagerstown native. His brother, Rick Dutrow, trained Big Brown but is currently serving the first year of a 10-year ban for doping violations.
Tony Dutrow and Giant Finish are scheduled to arrive Thursday, when Churchill Downs begins mandatory 24-hour-a-day monitoring of barns where Derby horses are staying.
Rudy Rodriguez, a jockey-turned-trainer who previously worked under Rick Dutrow, kept his Derby horse, Vyjack, at Fair Hill last month as he awaited a license to run in Louisville. That colt was also purchased at Fasig-Tipton's post-Preakness sale last year.
Albarado gets ride
In 2011, jockey Robby Albarado had been named to ride a lightly-regarded horse named Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby.
Three days before the race, a horse threw him to the ground and stepped on his face.
Animal Kingdom's trainer, Graham Motion of Fair Hill, thought Albarado was too beat up to race, so John Velazquez took the ride and won the Derby.
On Wednesday, Albarado was named to ride Golden Soul, a Dallas Stewart-trained colt who earned 14 points to qualify for the Derby.
"Obviously, what happened a couple years ago with Animal Kingdom, I just want to get back there as quick as I can," he said.
Albarado was not scheduled to ride in the race last year. He was arrested the day before the Derby and later convicted of fourth-degree assault against an ex-girlfriend. He paid a fine and avoided jail time, despite a previous domestic abuse charge that was dismissed but led to special restraints on his racing license.
Albarado has won 4,500 races, through Tuesday, including the 2007 Preakness aboard Curlin.
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