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Family at the Core of Rivelli's First Kentucky Derby

Rivelli, at least for now, isn't feeling the pressure.

 Larry Rivelli

Larry Rivelli

Anne M. Eberhardt

Every morning, Chicago-area horse trainer Pete DiVito would bring his grandson with him to the track. Every day. Without fail. 

Before school, after football practice—whenever time allowed. It was all Larry Rivelli wanted.

"When I was little, I never left his side. ... The weekends were with him. Five in the morning, getting his coffee before we went to the track. That's all we did. That's all I did. I loved it."

That love has led Rivelli to a career as a Thoroughbred trainer. That love has led Rivelli here, to a new professional zenith, days away from his first Kentucky Derby (G1) as a trainer.

Two Phil's - Morning - CD - 050223
Photo: Coady Photography
Two Phil's exercising in advance of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

Family is the common thread for Rivelli and his entrant, Two Phil's . He describes the colt's owners—Patricia's Hope, Phil Sagan, and Madakat Stables—as being family. And Rivelli's uncle, James DiVito, is a longtime trainer based at Hawthorne Race Course

Those family roots go back to Chicago, for which Rivelli is very mindful of his role in representing the city and the state of Illinois. 

"Trying to make everybody proud. So far so good," Rivelli said. 

He said if his grandfather were still alive—he passed away in 1998—he would be with him every step of the way.

With nearly a quarter century of experience, it begs the question: What took so long? 

But Rivelli believes one of his strengths is his ability to assess the talent at hand. 

"A lot of guys are ambitious, with their entries and thinking they might have a little more than they do. Always want to go with a loaded gun, so to speak. This is the first time I've had a loaded gun for this particular distance, this particular age group, this particular scenario."

Two Phil's is Rivelli's weapon of choice May 6. The son of 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun  and victor of the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3). 

Now the son is following in his father's hoofprints.

Again, family.

"Funny how I didn't really put much to that before the Jeff Ruby, but it's pretty cool how it seems to be working out kind of the same way," Rivelli said. Hard Spun also won the same prep as his son, run as the Lane's End Stakes in 2007.

Rivelli's top all-time earner is Nicole's Dream who earned $729,751 under his tutelage. In her career, she won nearly half of her starts, but she never won a graded stakes. Now with Two Phil's, Rivelli has a chance to accomplish something he never put at the forefront of his career goals: winning the Kentucky Derby. Should it never happen, he wouldn't be disappointed. 

"It's really exciting to do it now that we're sitting in the mix. Once they start loading in the gate, the heartbeat starts jumping out of your chest a little bit," Rivelli said. "It takes a different approach from that point, but probably, I wouldn't say it would dampen my spirits as far as my career and what we've accomplished."

No matter what happens Saturday, Rivelli, at least for now, isn't feeling the pressure that comes with being in the Derby or from participating in his first. 

"I really don't feel too much pressure, honestly, because...the people I train for they're like family, and we're all buddies. There really is no pressure. We're all excited to be here. And they do know me very well. If I didn't think we had a shot at it we wouldn't run. I wouldn't let points or the deal with the Derby persuade me to run. If I didn't think we had a shot, I'd run him in a different race.

"The deal with there not being pressure on me, I really don't appreciate that at least right now. ... Check back with me in a couple of days."