Should Two Phil’s pull off a not-so-improbable victory in Saturday’s 149th running of the Kentucky Derby, it will be a colossal victory not only for Illinois horse racing, but also in memory of dearly departed Arlington International Racecourse.
Chicago native Larry Rivelli, trainer of Two Phil’s, first fell in love with horse racing at Arlington. As a toddler, he often tagged along with his grandfather, the late Chicago-area horse trainer Pete DiVito, on visits to the backstretch. That experience was so impactful Rivelli grew up to become a third-generation horse trainer. His uncle, Jimmy DiVito, has trained horses for more than 50 years in the Chicago area.
But Rivelli didn’t just grow up to be another horse trainer. He won nine trainer championships at Arlington, including eight straight from 2014 until the track’s final meet in 2021. In 2022, the track was sold to the ownership of the Chicago Bears, who are hoping to build a new stadium on the site and an Illinois sportsbook. Rivelli now bases his 70-horse stable at Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney, the only remaining horse racing track in Chicago.
Hawthorne is also home base for Two Phil’s, Rivelli’s first Derby starter.
Two Phil’s would provide an all-Illinois victory in the Derby
Two Phil’s is the first Illinois-based horse to compete in the Kentucky Derby in 16 years. In 2007, Recapturetheglory finished fifth in the Run for the Roses won by Street Sense. Interestingly, 2007 was also the year that Two Phil’s father, Hard Spun, finished second in the Derby.
The last time an Illinois horse won the Derby was 21 years ago when War Emblem (below, Al Behrman / AP Photo) captured the 2002 race.
And a victory by Two Phil’s on Saturday at Churchill Downs would be a complete Illinois triumph.
The 3-year-old chestnut son of Hard Spun out of Mia Torri was bred by advertising executive Phil Sagan of Bloomingdale. Sagan and Madaket Stables retains a 20% share of the horse. The other 80% belongs to Rivelli’s long-time mother-and-son clients Pat and Vinnie Foglia, Jr. from Chicago’s northwestern suburbs. The Foglias race under the name Patricia’s Hope LLC.
Two Phil’s will be ridden by Chicago-based jockey Jareth Loveberry, who, like Rivelli, is making his Derby debut.
The horse will start from post 3 and is 12-1 in the morning line. Handicappers like his chances even better than that. Two Phil’s was at 8-1 as of Friday afternoon.
Where you can bet on the Kentucky Derby in Illinois
Around Illinois, there are plenty of ways to bet on horse races, including the new FanDuel Racing app that is legal to use in Illinois.
You can also bet:
- At the Track: Illinois is home to two live racetracks — Hawthorne Race Course and FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing near St. Louis. All have betting windows on-site.
- Online: Several legal online racebooks — TVG, Club Hawthorne, NYRA Bets, TwinSpires and XpressBet — happily accept wagers from bettors in Illinois.
- OTBs: That’s an acronym for off-track betting and these parlors are in several Illinois cities.
Considering Hawthorne has major rooting interest in Two Phil’s, it’s no surprise it is throwing what it is calling Chicago’s biggest Kentucky Derby party. The event promises: live music, an outdoor BBQ fest, craft beer sampling, a charity chili cook-off, a live broadcast by 670 The Score with Big Doug and tent lounges with dozens of high-definition TVs to watch the race.
Expect Two Phil’s to be popular in the betting at Hawthorne. After all, the horse’s trainer is Chicago to his core.
Rivelli’s Chicago roots run Blues Brothers deep
Apart from growing up running around the backstretch at Arlington, Rivelli also has a tiny connection to another legendary Chicago institution.
At age 9, he was a dancing extra in John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s love letter to Chicago, The Blues Brothers. Rivelli, dressed in grey, danced in the scene where Ray Charles performs Twist It. We believe that’s Rivelli circled in the screen grab below.
Perhaps that inspired the personable Rivelli to later produce this 2010 video promoting his training acumen:
Today, the North Barrington resident has trained the winners of over $36 million, with 1,773 career victories to his credit in almost 7,000 starts. He is currently second in the Hawthorne trainer standings, led the 2022 Hawthorne spring meet and was second in last year’s fall meet.
As to why, after considerable career success, Two Phil’s is Rivelli’s first Kentucky Derby starter, the trainer said this is the first time he’s had a horse that had a legitimate shot. This week, Rivelli told Joe Perez:
“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.”
While Two Phil’s hasn’t raced at either of Illinois’ two tracks, he has trained regularly at Hawthorne.
And, the horse owes his birth to a suburban Chicagoan with considerable beginner’s luck.
Two Phil’s Illinois origin story
Two Phil’s is the product of Sagan’s first Thoroughbred purchase, a filly named Mia Torri. She won over $300,000 in a racing career featuring 10 races. When her racing career ended, Sagan bred Mia Torri to Hard Spun on the advice of Chicago racing fixtures Jerry La Sala and Steve Leving.
The first foal died. The second was Two Phil’s, named for Phil Sagan and Phil La Sala, Jerry’s father.
Sagan twice tried to sell Two Phil’s before the horse hit the races. When the offers were lower than Sagan wanted, his family contacted Rivelli, who helped arrange the deal for the Foglias to buy 80% of the colt.
The Foglias also have deep roots in Chicago.
In 1971, Vince Foglia Sr. co-founded a medical tech company named Sage Products LLC. In 2016, the the Stryker Corporation of Michigan purchased the firm for a reported $2.7 billion. The family then turned to philanthropy through The Foglia Family Foundation. But Pat and Vinnie, Jr. also began owning horses. Not long after, Vinnie, Jr. met Rivelli and the two became fast friends and successful racing partners.
Vinnie, Jr. was the leading owner at Arlington the last seven straight years the track was open (2015-2021).
Meanwhile, Two Phil’s jockey, Jareth Loveberry is a Chicago transplant. His career took off in 2019 when he moved to Chicago and began riding at Arlington. With Arlington now closed, Loveberry is mostly racing in Kentucky, but his family still lives in Chicago. He makes the five-hour drive from Churchill Downs to Chicago whenever he gets a day off.
Rivelli hoping to win it for Illinois
As a life-long Chicagoan, Rivelli is hoping to win the Derby for his hometown and home state. He believes Two Phil’s is up to the test.
“Good horses can come from anywhere,” Rivelli told Mitchell Armentrout for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Two Phil’s level-headed demeanor should help.
“There’s gonna be 150,000 people screaming, and other horses will be all jacked up, sweating, nervous. But he’s just got a little bit of an air about him, like he’s not really afraid of much. He doesn’t come busting out of the gate. But when he sees daylight, he knows it’s time to go.”
Should Larry Rivelli and his band of fellow Chicagoans find themselves in the winner’s circle as the sun dips below the famous twin spires on Saturday, undoubtedly fond memories of both his grandfather and Arlington will be with him there, too.