Rivelli Flies South for Fair Grounds

Contact: Kevin Kilroy
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  • Ahead of his two entries in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, Rivelli discusses the make-up of his Fair Grounds’ barn and potential for another Derby star

New Orleans, La (Oct. 31, 2023) – Of the fifteen trainers who will be stabled for the first-time at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, there is one who has the numbers, the past success, and the momentum to compete for the 2023-2024 title. Around his Chicago stomping grounds, they call him The Riv. Recently he’s better known as the trainer of the Kentucky Derby star, Two Phil’s. In his debut meet, Larry Rivelli will have 41 stalls at Fair Grounds, and his record at Arlington Park suggests he knows how to use them.

“I’ve got about 100 total horses right now, maybe more with some on the farm,” Larry Rivelli said. “Eighty or so in training, but I’m sending a lot back to the farm because I don’t want them to race all year. I’ve got 25 staying at Turfway and the rest we’re bringing to Fair Grounds. I think it’s going to be a good time.”

Rivelli knows what it feels like to have les bon temps slip through his fingers in New Orleans. Only having raced locally three times in his 24-year-career, two of those were Two Phil’s near misses on the Derby trail, finishing second in last year’s Lecomte (G3) and third in the Risen Star (G2). But that was just the beginning of the colt’s story. After winning the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), he ran a brilliant second in Kentucky Derby 149. Later in the summer he became the 2023 Ohio Derby Champion and was arguably the best 3-year-old in training, before sustaining an injury that necessitated a career change. Two Phil’s success in the Derby garnered Rivelli well-deserved attention on the national stage.

“We ended up selling Two Phil’s to WinStar,” Rivelli said. “But we stayed in for a piece on him, so we’re going to have a lot of action with him over the next few years for sure.”

Make no mistake, The Riv is no feel-good Derby story flash in the pan. The Chicago-native has proven himself year-in and year-out at Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course. A multiple graded stakes winning trainer with eleven trainer’s titles, ahead of this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup, he has 1,823 career wins and is sitting one Louisiana Derby purse shy of $40 million in career earnings. In other words, it’s well-documented that when Rivelli is in a race, he’s live. 

The grandson of Pete DiVito and nephew of James DiVito, two revered Illinois horsemen, in 2021 Rivelli was in his 21st year as a trainer and at the top of his game. With 143 wins, he finished 13th among all trainers in North America that year. On a streak of eight straight trainer titles at Arlington, nine total, Rivelli’s reign at Arlington was cut short.

The same year he set a new high-water mark, surpassing $3 million in earnings for the first time in his career, Rivelli became a man on the move with the closing of Arlington Park in 2021.

In 2022 Rivelli’s barn moved South. South Cicero Avenue, that is, where at Hawthorne he immediately added two more notches to his trainer’s title shillelagh. The 26% lifetime trainer continued his rate of success scoring with 26% in 2022 and 31% as of Nov. 1, 2023. Though his barn has had phenomenal success with 2-year-olds, none of them had stepped forward to become a Derby or Oaks contender, but that changed in 2023 with the emergence of Phil and Anthony Sagan’s first homebred, Two Phil’s. 

On the Kentucky Derby undercard, his turf-sprinter Nobals won the Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes (G2). One Timer had already put Rivelli’s name in lights when taking the 2022 Franklin-Simpson (G2) at Kentucky Downs, earning a spot in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Both of those 4-year-old geldings are knocking on the door of $1 million in lifetime earnings, and as long as One Timer draws in from the also-eligible list, they’ll face each other in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint to see who can get there first. 

After two winters stabled at Hawthorne, Rivelli will move south again. This time it’s way down south to New Orleans. Both Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprinters will be with him in barn 33.

“Louie Roussel is a very good friend, and he has always encouraged me to come down,” Rivelli said. “I promised Scott (Jones, Fair Grounds Racing Secretary) I’d be active so I’m going to make him proud.”

Chicago to NOLA is a well-traveled path in horse racing, as Rivelli will join familiar foes who he competed against year-in and year-out at Arlington Park. Wayne Catalano, Michael Stidham, Louie Roussel III are all returning to Fair Grounds for another year. More recent Chi-town additions include Brian Williamson and Hugh Robertson. 

“I’m familiar with the races at Fair Grounds and what kind of horses you need to win so that’s what I am going to try to bring,” Rivelli said. “I’ve got a bunch of maiden two-year-olds that are capable of running but are not necessarily the best of their crop. I’ll be hoping to find the right spots for them.” 

One of the signatures of the Fair Grounds meet is the Road to the Derby, which Two Phil’s traveled on last year. Rivelli is not sure yet if he will have another contender.

“There’s one. His name is Whatdoyouthinkmark.” Rivelli said. “He’s one I bought privately, but he ended up on the sidelines having a bit of an issue, so we had to turn him out. Hopefully we can have him back in time for some of the races we entered Two Phil’s in last year at Fair Grounds (Lecomte and Risen Star).”

Other than that, Rivelli has around 50 yearlings, soon-to-be two-year-olds, being broken in now.

“Hopefully in the next batch there’s another Two Phil’s in there,” Rivelli said. “As far as stakes contenders, I’ll also bring a horse called Uncashed. Three-year-old. I am going to run him in the Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning and then I’ll bring him to Fair Grounds after that. He won a stakes at Saratoga (The Quick Call) when it came off the turf. Nice horse. Everyone else is an allowance horse or cheaper maidens.”

With Ron Faucheux, the winner of the past three trainer’s titles, stepping away from training, the 2023 – 2024 Fair Grounds throne is up for grabs. Before Faucheux rattled off three in a row, Brad Cox hung up four banners. Michael Stidham won it in 2016. From 2015 all the way back to 2000, it was either Steve Asmussen or Tom Amoss. 

Bret Calhoun led most of the 2022 – 2023 meet but finished in second. Joe Sharp has vied for the title but fallen a touch short several times over the past ten years. Brendan Walsh will be locked and loaded with 30 head. All these trainers know that to win a title at Fair Grounds, you need to win your share of the 73 stakes scheduled to be run this year, be competitive day-in and day-out in the open-company allowance and claiming races, and actively participate in the robust statebred program. 

“Being from Illinois I don’t have many Louisiana-breds, so I’ve tried to get a couple here and there.” Rivelli said. “I know that program is well-supported. Hopefully a couple more will come my way once I’m down there.”

With a sizable portion of Fair Grounds races being restricted to La-breds, maybe the most pertinent question regarding this year’s trainer’s crown will be: How Cajun is The Riv?

Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots kicks off its 152nd racing season on Friday Nov. 17. Regular post time for the 76-day meet will be 12:45 PM CT.


About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots

Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, one of the nation’s oldest racetracks, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds, which is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN), also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 16 off-track betting parlors throughout Southeast Louisiana. Hotel Monteleone is the official hotel of Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots, and Molson Coors is the official beer partner. The 152nd Thoroughbred Racing Season–highlighted by the 111th running of the Louisiana Derby–will run from Nov. 17, 2023 through March 24, 2024. More information is available online at www.fgno.com.



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