01/30/2013 2:12PM

Dick Jerardi: Pitino's basketball team, trio of 3-year-olds slumping, but he still has Goldencents

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Benoit & Associates
Goldencents, owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, looks like a good Kentucky Derby prospect.

I went down to South Philly on Jan. 22 to see Rick Pitino. Figured his Louisville team, a 12-point favorite, would beat up on Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center and he would be in a mood to talk horses after he did his postgame obligations.

All night, I kept waiting for Louisville to blow the game open and win easily. Then, I figured they would just win the game, but not as comfortably. Then, in the final minutes, after nearly two hours of assumptions, I realized Louisville was not going to win the game at all.

Just as I came to that conclusion, Villanova students were flooding the floor and Rick’s players were heading to the locker room with their heads down.

Pitino took a long time coming out to answer questions. I am thinking he was not all that thrilled with his players and took all that time to explain just what he thought of their performance.

While I wanted to ask about Gorgui, Siva, and Russdiculous, he was probably telling the players that begat the names of the three 3-year-olds that he was thinking about changing the names of the horses.

When Rick finally did emerge, he said something about his team’s free-throw shooting reminding him of Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal. He was so unhappy with Russ Smith, aka Russdiculous, that he benched him at the start of the next game. He was not all that thrilled with Gorgui Dieng either. But he seemed less upset with his point guard Peyton Siva.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

What he thought of the three horses or even Kentucky Derby contender Goldencents (he has an ownership interest in all of them), I do not know. After answering a few questions, his terrific press sidekick Kenny Klein, mercifully ended the session. Rick spotted me, shook my hand and headed quickly back to the sanctuary of the locker room. This was not the night to be talking horses.

Whatever, it is very cool that Pitino likes the game so much and is so involved in it.

Gorgui made his first start last Sunday at Gulfstream Park. He was 5-1 and finished a closing third, 13 lengths behind two fast horses at seven furlongs. He got a 56 Beyer Speed Figure, not a bad debut for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.

The real Siva appears faster than the horse. In Siva’s only start, on Jan. 10 at Gulfstream Park, he was 42-1 for 2012 Trainer of the Year Dale Romans, showed no speed, and finished last, beaten by 32 1/2 lengths. He got a Beyer of 2, a number that generally does not portend greatness.

Russdiculous, named after the player because he does so many ridiculous things on the court, has raced four times with mixed results. Trained by Doug O’Neill at Santa Anita, the colt was 7-2 in his first start last October and finished a close second after leading most of the way. He got a 72 Beyer. He led again in his next start before tiring badly and finishing fourth, getting a 66 Beyer. Sent longer in his third start, he showed less speed, faded badly, and finished seventh, beaten by 16 3/4 lengths, getting a 41 Beyer.

So, O’Neill sent Russdiculous from Santa Anita to Golden Gate Fields. The colt was 3-5, opened up a five-length lead, and hit the wall, finishing third and getting a 72 Beyer.

That race came just a few hours after then No. 1 Louisville lost at home to Syracuse. Then, they lost to Villanova. Then, they lost at Georgetown. They had late leads in all three games.

Do you detect a basketball/horse racing pattern here?

Well, there is always Goldencents. The only time he lost a lead was to 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby in the Champagne. Goldencents, also trained by O’Neill, has won his other three starts, including two stakes, getting Beyers of 93, 91, and 93. The colt has earned $782,000, which will keep you in the game.

Louisville was my pick to win the national championship when the season began. I admit to wavering, but Rick is the best there is and the NCAA Tournament does not start until late March. There is plenty of time for the coach to figure it out.

Goldencents would not be my pick to win the Derby today, but what if Louisville wins the national championship in Atlanta on April 9 and, 26 days later, Pitino emerges from his posh suite at Churchill Downs to get his picture taken in the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle?

Not sure what the price is on that daily double, but could you just imagine. When I see Rick on the trail in March, I will ask him what he thinks. My guess is that his team will be winning then, he won’t be as mad at those players that he liked enough at the time to name horses after, and he will smile just at the thought of it.

Kermit Pleasant More than 1 year ago
Great article! Dont give up on Siva yet!
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
I like lightly raced three year olds going into the derby. These others who have run tough races get injured or burn out by the derby. I was very impressed with a Mott horse that recently ran named "Close Hatches". If Mott has plans for him, that's my derby horse. Hey Dick, talk to Parx about promoting some handicapping tourneys. i think it would be a good time. A lot of tracks are doing it now and giving seats towards the to NHC finals. Lets get our home track to do it too.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
I like this article and would just make mention of the odds being better than average that IF Rick Pitino has marked the first Saturday in May on his calendar, then he has every intent on being a participant in the Rose Run. As a college coach, RP has manned the helm for 29 years at Boston U (5), Providence C. (2), U of Kentucky (8), and U of Louisville(11 and counting). He has made the NCAA tourney 17 times in those years, which is pretty good when considering his beginnings and the fact that Kentucky had two years remaining on a ban for paying it's players cash under a previous regime. He has taken three different teams to the Final Four (PC, UK, UL) and won the NCAA Championship in 1996,. RP lost in the finals in 1997 and then left to the NBA Boston Celtics. Tubby Smith won a title at UK the very next year with what was basically Pitino's second team. Make of that what you will, but I like to think of it as a tribute to what can happen when you finally give observant, hard-working talent a chance. But that's just me. This years team plays basketball in name only. But they'll be OK. In the Kentucky Derby: Pitino (as owner) has run his Blue Grass winner, Halory Hunter, to a 4th in Real Quiet's 1998 race, and A P Valentine (Champagne) was 7th to Monarchos in 2001 before running 2nd in the Preakness and Belmont.. It sez here: there is an excellent chance that a Pitino runner will be stepping foot on the CD soil as they warm up the singer on that now faraway first Saturday in May and the bugler signals the approach of the eminent stampede. Just getting there can be it's own reward. Thanks.
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
Hmmn, nice article. I wish they had a minimum requirement for Kentucky Derby points. I haven't seen 20 horses that deserve a spot in the gate. IMHO.
Sam More than 1 year ago
Oxbow's time in the Lecomte was very slow, but he was following a pacesetter who was posting slow fractions, and once he pulled away in the stretch, why waste him trying to make 1:43.
Sam More than 1 year ago
At this time, there seems to be a big difference between these three year olds and last year's. The two year olds haven't developed like last year's. Shanghai Bobby appears to be a miler; ItsMyLuckyDay proved he's fast, but we'll have to wait nine weeks to find out if he can easily handle a mile and an eighth.
Sam More than 1 year ago
I agree with you, Matt. January is a long time from May. And the loss to Villanova is a long time to the March Madness.
Sam More than 1 year ago
And the team "soup?"
Matt More than 1 year ago
I would name my horse noodles