LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and his staff have a huge recruiting weekend coming up. Pitino personally is heading to Dallas, then Sacramento, then back across the country and up to Toronto in the only Spring evaluation period for coaches.
But Pitino still found some time early Friday morning to visit the Churchill Downs backside, where he watched Doug O’Neill’s Empress of Midway breeze during the workout time allotted for Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks starters.
Pitino recently purchased an interest in the Empire Maker filly, who made the Oaks field when Todd Pletcher’s In Tune was sidelined by soreness in a shin.
Pitino’s assistant, Jordan Sucher, said he thought the coach was heading straight to the airport this morning, but that the group made a detour at Churchill Downs when the coach said, “We’re in the Oaks.”
The coach has had a pair of Derby starters, including O’Neill’s Goldencents last year, who finished 17th in the Derby but came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Empress of Midway was unraced as a 2-year-old but earned Oaks credentials with a second-place finish to Bob Baffert’s Awesome Baby in the Sunland Oaks.
Pitino said he hasn’t seen the filly run in person, “only on tape.”
“Every barn I go to, that’s the next Secretariat,” Pitino was asked about this stroll through the backside this morning. “. . . I’ve never had a horse run in the Oaks this week, so it’s kind of exciting. I enjoy this week. Obviously this is a big recruiting week for us, I’ve got about 6,000 miles in the next three days, and I’ll get in Tuesday night and be ready to unwind a little bit.”