Kentucky Derby

Ownership, friendship compete for Pitino's Derby allegiance

U of L Coach Rick Pitino talked to the media Wednesday about his early days as UK coach when he used to bring recruits to Claiborne Farm to see the equine stars, including Secretariat.
U of L Coach Rick Pitino talked to the media Wednesday about his early days as UK coach when he used to bring recruits to Claiborne Farm to see the equine stars, including Secretariat. Herald-Leader

LOUISVILLE — Rick Pitino has been on quite a roll of late, but even though the Louisville basketball coach has a horse in the 139th Kentucky Derby, he wouldn't mind seeing a friend grab the glory.

Pitino owns 5 percent of Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents, but he's backing another horse, as well.

"Obviously, we're rooting for Goldencents, but the Derby is something you never know," said Pitino on Wednesday morning to a mob of media outside Goldencents' barn. "If we don't win it, I'd like to see someone like Shug McGaughey win it. He's never won a Derby and certainly he's a great trainer and he's a friend of mine."

McGaughey trains Florida Derby winner Orb, who if not the eventual betting favorite may be the sentimental favorite when the field gets to the gate early Saturday evening.

McGaughey trained 1989 Derby favorite Easy Goer, who lost to Sunday Silence in the first two races of what was a memorable Triple Crown duel between the two greats.

McGaughey has had just one Derby horse — Saarland, who finished 10th in 2002 — since then.

Appearing on Drew Deener's morning radio show on ESPN 680 in Louisville, McGaughey said that he saw Pitino at a wedding in Florida a couple of weeks back and the two talked about the race and Pitino's recent run in which he won the Santa Anita Derby, was selected for the Basketball Hall of Fame and coached Louisville to the title.

"I have the utmost respect for Rick Pitino," McGaughey said.

As for the racing end, Orb was foaled at Claiborne Farm, whose Seth Hancock led Pitino to own Thoroughbreds in the first place.

"This is going to sound strange," Pitino said Wednesday, "but every recruit that we would bring in early on at Kentucky, we made a trip to Claiborne Farm and Mr. Prospector and a few other horses would come out, then what everybody wanted to see, the mighty Secretariat would come out. All the recruits and their families would say hello to Secretariat and take some pictures."

Pitino has been co-owner of a pair of previous Derby runners. Halory Hunter finished fourth in 1998. A P Valentine ran seventh in 2001.

"It's anybody's ball game," said Pitino before leaving to watch Goldencents gallop over the track. "It's not like basketball where you can look at a team and say, 'Well, they've got a little more firepower.' You just don't know in the Derby because you just don't know who's going to get into racing trouble."

That doesn't keep Pitino from dreaming, however.

"I'd like to see a Goldencents/Orb exacta," he said. "That would be awesome."

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