Rick Pitino Takes Time for Horse Hobby at Gulfstream

With the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s college basketball fans stirred into a frenzy after the elimination of top-seeded University of Louisville from the NCAA men’s tournament and the hiring of a new coach at the University of Kentucky, Louisville’s coach Rick Pitino escaped the storm for a few hours indulging his passion for horse racing Thursday at Gulfstream Park.

The 56-year-old coach is one of the principle partners in Ol Memorial Stable. He was at the track to see his 3-year-old filly In Debt Joanne go for her second career win in a 5 ½-furlong claiming race.

“I came down to play a little golf and it just so happened my horse was running,” said Pitino, whose Cardinals team was eliminated last Saturday in the Elite Eight by Michigan State, denying Louisville a return trip to the Final Four.

“This filly was named for my wife. Her name is Joanne and she’s always in debt. So I had to come out. This is my first trip this year. I always enjoy myself here. It’s a really great track.”

In Debt Joanne, a homebred daughter of El Corredor trained by Cam Gambolati, was unable to make up any ground on 56-1 front-running winner I Love My C D and finished sixth under jockey Elvis Trujillo.

Pitino has reached the highest levels in both basketball and horse racing. His Halory Hunter finished fourth in the 1998 Kentucky Derby (G1) and A P Valentine was seventh three years later. He also won the NCAA title as head coach of the University of Kentucky Wildcats team in 1996 and is the only coach to bring three different teams to the Final Four.

As for a prediction of what might happen in the Final Four this year, Pitino was diplomatic.

“I’m hoping to see one of the Big East teams win it,” he said. “Other than that, I like all four coaches.”

Tomcito Pushing to Reach Potential in Skip Away

When Jet Set Racing’s Tomcito arrived on the scene in South Florida at Palm Meadows with trainer Dante Zanelli, Jr.as a 3-year-old in 2008 he brought some international flair to the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park.

After a credible third-place run behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby in his U.S. debut the son of Street Cry will try and put injuries behind him and realize his potential in Saturday’s $100,000 Skip Away Stakes (G3).

The 4-year-old colt is a Group 1 stakes-winner from his time as a precocious juvenile in Peru where his South American-based owners raced him against horses older than him and still won four of his five starts.

After finishing third in the Florida Derby, he failed to advance in two other Graded stakes attempts before shifting to trainer Tom Albertrani and eventually going on the shelf.

“We got him in early June and he’s just such a big horse, his shins gave him problems so we gave him some time off,” said Albertrani, who took over following a seventh-place finish in the Peter Pan (G2) at Belmont Park in May. “He got some foundation on the farm and he’s come along quite nicely since we got him back here at Palm Meadows in November.”

Albertrani naturally worries about bringing a horse back from an 11-month layoff in a stakes race, let along one at 1 3/16 miles, but he points to the horse’s fondness for extended distances and is cautiously optimistic.

“He looks fantastic and he’s been training well,” he said. “The thought would be that he might need a race, but I’ll be curious to see how he handles it. He’s older now. His Florida Derby last year wasn’t a bad race and I think if he’s able to come back to the form and run as well as he did then, it should be fun. We should learn something this weekend.”

Albertrani says he will likely remain at his Palm Meadows base through the end of the meet here which closes on Apr. 23. He will be watching the performance of Farnsworth Stables’ 3-year-old filly Gozzip Girl, a winner of two stakes at Gulfstream this winter, as she tries the Polytrack surface at Keeneland in the $400,000 Ashland Stakes (G1) Saturday.

“It was something of a last-minute decision,” said Albertrani, who saddled the daughter of Dynaformer to victories in the Coconut Grove Stakes on Feb. 15 and the Herecomesthebride Stakes (G3) on Mar. 15 – both on turf.

“She’s trained forwardly since her last race, and even though it’s a little quick off her last race, we figured if there was a time to take a chance on the Polytrack, Keeneland should be the place.”

Marquez Fractures Finger

Jockey Carlos Marquez Jr. will be sidelined indefinitely with a fracture of the metacarpal bone of his index finger on his left hand.

Marquez shattered the bone - which extends from the wrist to the finger - while attempting to break his fall when the filly Classy Concorde reared up in the starting gate in Thursday’s seventh race at Gulfstream Park.

The 32-year-old native of Puerto Rico was fitted with a hard cast from his forearm to the top of his fingers, and will visit a hand specialist for a second opinion early next week.

Marquez and his agent Joe Burdo are hoping to get a timetable for a return during that second evaluation.

"I'd like to get an answer on everything before next week," said Burdo, who has helped Marquez to 20 wins this season at Gulfstream and a stakes win aboard Victory Alleged in the Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 21.

Marquez bruised his tailbone last Saturday when the 3-year-old colt Ramblin Boy acted up in the starting gate in the first race on the Florida Derby day card. Marquez missed the rest of the weekend before returning to the saddle Wednesday.

Rutherienne Leads Nominations for South Beach

Virginia Kraft Payson’s 5-year-old homebred mare Rutherienne is a Grade 1 winner of more than $900,000 for trainer Christophe Clement and would appear to be overqualified for next Saturday’s $50,000 South Beach Stakes at 7 ½ furlongs on turf, but the timing, place and distance may fit into larger plans as the season unfolds.

A daughter of Pulpit, Rutherienne has ranked high in the filly and mare turf stakes division the last two seasons, winning the Del Mar Oaks (G1) in 2007, but hasn’t run since finishing third as the favorite behind Wild Promises in the My Charmer Handicap (G3) at Calder on Dec. 6.

Rutherienne won nine of her first 12 career starts, but the My Charmer continued a frustrating streak of five straight third-place finishes in Graded stakes going back to last May at Hollywood Park in the Gamely Stakes (G1).

Prior to the My Charmer, Rutherienne finished third in the First Lady Stakes (G1) at Keeneland behind Forever Together, who would go to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita and Eclipse Award honors.

Also prominent among 34 fillies and mares nominated for the South Beach is Farnsworth Stable’s 5-year-old mare Flibberjibbit, a two-time allowance winner over the course at this meet. Trained by Marty Wolfson, the daughter of Arch finished a good third last out in the Honey Fox Stakes (G3) on Mar. 7.