08/08/2012 2:16PM

Del Mar notes: Pitino checks up on his West Coast string


DEL MAR, Calif. – Rick Pitino, the University of Louisville basketball coach, was on a scouting trip Wednesday, and it had nothing to do with hoops. Pitino has four horses with trainer Doug O’Neill, including three 2-year-old colts, giving Pitino his first presence as an owner on the West Coast after having horses in Kentucky and on the East Coast for years.

Pitino watched them all train Wednesday, including Avare, a son of Johannesburg, whom jockey Garrett Gomez came out to breeze, and Russdiculous, a Malibu Moon colt named for Russ Smith, a guard who was part of the Cardinal team that advanced to the Final Four earlier this year.

Avare was timed in 49.20 seconds for a half-mile, while Russdiculous went the same distance in 48.80 seconds under jockey Kevin Krigger.

Pitino’s connection to O’Neill came through Jack Sisterson, an assistant to O’Neill who played soccer at Louisville. Pitino said he hit it off with O’Neill and purchased the first of his horses with O’Neill, before O’Neill’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes victories earlier this year with I’ll Have Another.

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Pitino said he put together a partnership for the West Coast horses that includes Lou Lamoriello, the chief executive officer, president, and general manager of the New Jersey Devils, who lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings.

“He gave me my first job at Providence,” Pitino said of Lamoriello, who was the athletic director at Providence before leaving in 1987 to work for the Devils.

Highly Rated impresses in victory

Pressed into a wickedly fast pace in a first-level allowance going one mile on turf last Friday, Highly Rated disposed of her pace rival and bravely held on, earning her second win in four starts and giving trainer Carla Gaines plenty to think about over her next move.

“I thought her performance was amazing,” Gaines said. “She went the first quarter in 21 and 3, with another horse lapped on her. I thought the fractions were going to be way too fast. I thought she’d get beat. But she finished.”

A daughter of Redattore, Highly Rated, 3, is now 2 for 3 since stretching out around two turns. She was bred and is owned by John Harris.

Perfecta could move on to Sandy Blue

After three losses sprinting to begin her career, Perfecta was a winner in her first start around two turns last Friday against maidens, and trainer Richard Mandella said he might bring her back in the $85,000 Sandy Blue Stakes on Aug. 17.

“I might have to look at that, if I can’t find a nonwinners-of-one race at the end of the meet,” Mandella said. “She won really nice. I kept saying she would do well going long. I should have listened to myself sooner.”

Perfecta, 3, a daughter of Pleasantly Perfect, has made all of her starts on turf.