Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Friday, June 01, 2012

| Churchill Downs Communications | 06/07/2012 #
  • Coach Jimi Lee shown winning the 2003 Forward Pass Stakes at Arlington Park.

In Today's Notes: Famous Stable Ponies: 'Coach' Sprinted While 'Lava' Flowed; Differences and Similarities Between Coach Jimi Lee and Lava Man


STD Racing Stable and Jason Wood's Lava Man, who retired as the only horse in history to win Grade I races over dirt, grass and synthetic surfaces, is back in the news these days as the sidekick and escort pony for Reddam Racing's 2012 Triple Crown hopeful I'll Have Another.

That's as it should be, because the possibility of a Triple Crown sweep is always a positive boldface headline story for Thoroughbred racing, and the fact that I'll Have Another was accompanied leading up to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness by California's loveable Lava Man – and will be again leading up to the Belmont Stakes – just adds to the feel-good intrigue of all things equine.

However, during the six and a half years of Lava Man's career as a race horse, Illinois had its own favored sprinter named Coach Jimi Lee, owned by Lee Battaglia and Jimmy DiVito and trained by the Chicago-born DiVito.

Coach Jimi Lee, at one time the fastest horse in Illinois history, had a career that began a year before Lava Man's and ended a year and a half later. Now, Coach Jimi Lee is also in pursuit of a second career as a stable pony.

"We've been training him as a stable pony for about six months," said DiVito this week during training hours at Arlington. "Pancho (Arlington outrider Juan Francisco Lopez) has been getting on him and been a tremendous help with his whole training program.

"Because 'Coach Jimi' was such a fast horse, the process involves getting his kind used to walking back and forth to the track with other horses – escorting them instead of trying to outrun them. He still needs more work on that. He's not ready yet.

"Arlington has scheduled an overnight stakes named the Coach Jimi Lee for July 14 (Million Preview Day)," said DiVito, speaking of a $65,000 seven-furlong event to be contested on the same day as four Grade III events – the $200,000 Arlington Handicap, $200,000 Modesty Handicap, $200,000 American Derby and $150,000 Stars and Stripes.

"What I'm trying to do now is get one of my 3-year-olds ready to run in that race," DiVito concluded, "and have 'The Coach' ready to lead him over."


While STD Racing and Jason Wood's Lava Man retired as the only horse in history to win Grade I races over dirt, turf and synthetic surfaces, Lee Battaglia and Jimmy DiVito's Coach Jimi Lee could only run on dirt.

In fact, although Coach Jimi Lee won four times at Arlington, he never won after the local oval's main track was converted to Polytrack for its 2007 season. Also, in his only turf outing at Gulfstream Park in 2009, he finished sixth.

Coach Jimi Lee is now a 12-year-old, having gone over the $1 million mark in earnings in the fall of 2010. He made his 56th and the final start of his career on July 11, 2011, and retired after 18 trips to the winner's circle. He only won sprinting, although he did finish second by a nose in one race going a mile at Hoosier Park.

Lava Man is now an 11-year-old who retired with more than $5.2 million in earnings. He made the 47th and final start of his career on Dec. 27, 2009, and retired with 17 career wins. He never won sprinting, but he did win two races at a mile on the grass.

But the biggest difference to date in Lava Man's and Coach Jimi Lee's careers as stable ponies is that now Lava Man has heard the cheers of two Triple Crown crowds and is expected to once again on Belmont Stakes Day in New York on June 9.

Coach Jimi Lee? He's still working on that – shooting for Million Preview Day in Chicago on July 14 at Arlington.