03/12/2008 11:00PM

'Coach Jimi' starts '08 in tough spot

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STICKNEY, Ill. - Coach Jimi Lee's 2007 season was basically a wash, and at his age, a lost season is tough to swallow. Coach Jimi Lee, one of the best sprinters in Chicago for years, makes his 8-year-old debut Saturday at Hawthorne in a race that will help trainer Jim DiVito determine whether The Coach can manage any sort of real return to his glory days.

Coach Jimi Lee, the six-furlong track-record holder here, hasn't started at Hawthorne since April 5, 2005, when he easily won an allowance race. In four Hawthorne starts, he has never lost, nor been close to losing. But Saturday's race, a high-level allowance also open to $100,000 claimers, came up tough.

DiVito also entered the good sprinter Piratesonthelake, who drew post 1. Trainer Christine Janks has two top-level Illinois-breds for the six-furlong optional-claimer; Mighty Rule ended 2007 on a roll, and High Expectations always stands ready to pick up the pieces of a speed duel.

Coach Jimi Lee and jockey Eddie Perez will break from the outside stall in a seven-horse field and should get a good pressing trip from there. Closing in on $1 million in career earnings, Coach Jimi Lee made only three starts last year, losing several months after popping a splint on his cannon bone. His comeback last November at Churchill was not good at all, but Coach Jimi Lee rebounded with a second-place finish to the good sprinter Ravalo in the Dec. 22 Christmas Stakes at Mountaineer.

DiVito says both of his horses have trained well into their 2008 debuts, but he is as curious as anyone to see where Coach Jimi Lee fits in right now.

"He'll have to show us that," DiVito said. "You've got to run him and see what's going on. There's not a lot to go on from last year."

Last year was an excellent year for Mighty Rule, who compiled a 4-4-1 record from 9 starts. His peak came in his 2007 finale, when he won the Lightning Jet Handicap at Hawthorne over favored Shrewd Operator by almost two lengths. Mighty Rule's record at Hawthorne is nearly the equal of Coach Jimi Lee's. Both he and High Expectations posted several works at Janks's winter quarters in Florida, and Mighty Rule was especially sharp in a recent five-furlong Hawthorne breeze.STICKNEY, Ill. - Coach Jimi Lee's 2007 season was basically a wash, and at his age, a lost season is tough to swallow. Coach Jimi Lee, one of the best sprinters in Chicago for years, makes his 8-year-old debut Saturday at Hawthorne in a race that will help trainer Jim DiVito determine whether The Coach can manage any sort of real return to his glory days.

Coach Jimi Lee, the six-furlong track-record holder here, hasn't started at Hawthorne since April 5, 2005, when he easily won an allowance race. In four Hawthorne starts, he has never lost, nor been close to losing. But Saturday's race, a high-level allowance also open to $100,000 claimers, came up tough.

DiVito also entered the good sprinter Piratesonthelake, who drew post 1. Trainer Christine Janks has two top-level Illinois-breds for the six-furlong optional-claimer; Mighty Rule ended 2007 on a roll, and High Expectations always stands ready to pick up the pieces of a speed duel.

Coach Jimi Lee and jockey Eddie Perez will break from the outside stall in a seven-horse field and should get a good pressing trip from there. Closing in on $1 million in career earnings, Coach Jimi Lee made only three starts last year, losing several months after popping a splint on his cannon bone. His comeback last November at Churchill was not good at all, but Coach Jimi Lee rebounded with a second-place finish to the good sprinter Ravalo in the Dec. 22 Christmas Stakes at Mountaineer.

DiVito says both of his horses have trained well into their 2008 debuts, but he is as curious as anyone to see where Coach Jimi Lee fits in right now.

"He'll have to show us that," DiVito said. "You've got to run him and see what's going on. There's not a lot to go on from last year."

Last year was an excellent year for Mighty Rule, who compiled a 4-4-1 record from 9 starts. His peak came in his 2007 finale, when he won the Lightning Jet Handicap at Hawthorne over favored Shrewd Operator by almost two lengths. Mighty Rule's record at Hawthorne is nearly the equal of Coach Jimi Lee's. Both he and High Expectations posted several works at Janks's winter quarters in Florida, and Mighty Rule was especially sharp in a recent five-furlong Hawthorne breeze.