Homegrown trainer Larry Rivelli seeks fifth straight title at Arlington

At Crystal Lake South, Larry Rivelli was difficult to catch on the high school football field.

Now the former Gators running back has thoroughbreds who pose the same problem.

When Arlington International Racecourse opens on Friday, Rivelli will be chasing a fifth straight trainer's title.

"His horses have a lot of speed and they are difficult to catch," said fellow trainer Chris Block, who was third in the standings last summer and stabled just a few shed rows from Rivelli on the Arlington back stretch. "This meet fits his horses. Larry comes here ready to go."

Since racing began 91 years ago at Arlington Park, only four trainers have won four consecutive championships.

The list includes William Hal Bishop in the early 1950s, Harvey Vanier in the mid 1990s, Wayne Catalano in the late 2000s. And now Rivelli, who had a record 79 wins in 2017, after winning 59 races in 2014, 72 in 2015, and 58 in 2016.

"Larry prepares for this meet," said Rivelli''s primary jockey Jose Valdivia, the three-time defending Arlington champion. "And one thing people don't realize is that he gets his horse enough rest.

"Horse racing is a yearlong today. So it's hard to get time off for the horses. They will get the time off because they've been injured. But Larry gives them time off when they are actually in good shape."

Rivelli won the Arlington crown with about 60 horses in his barn last summer and he expects to have a few more than that for this meet.

The homegrown conditioner was a star running back at Crystal Lake South High School in the late 1980s, but racing runs deep in his family. Grandfather Peter DiVito was a longtime trainer at Arlington. Larry's uncle is Jimmy DiVito, one of the all-time winningest trainers at Arlington.

"My grandfather knew Hal Bishop," Larry Rivelli said. "Obviously, I knew of Harvey Vanier when I was a kid and when I was just starting out (1999). And I am friends with Wayne Catalano, so I am well aware of all his accomplishments."

Catalano, who was second to Rivelli last summer with 28 wins, owns a record 11 Arlington titles. Rivelli has won five, with his first coming in 2011 to end a record streak of six in a row by Catalano.

Trainer Wesley Ward recommended Valdivia to ride at Arlington three years ago. The native of Peru has been handled by agent Steve Leving. When Catalano was on his winning streak with owner Frank Calabrese in the 2000s, Leving served as Calabrese's racing manager.

Valdivia loves riding for Rivelli.

"I'll tell you something, he is a guy who knows how to run a horse off a layoff," Valdivia said "I have never been afraid that I am going to run out of horse with him. I know they are going to be ready.

"He knows how to get them ready the right way and he's had a great crew with him for years. So they know his style and what it takes. The fact that he points for this meet and that his horses come in fresh is a huge advantage."

Many of the regular faces are expected back and looking forward to another season at Arlington.

Block is one of the all-time winningest Illinois-bred trainers. The native of Champaign is set to make an impact again this summer upping his stable to nearly 50 horses from around 38 last summer.

"We had a good meet last summer and I think it was a good meet to hopefully build on this summer," he said. "The purse increase (about 15 percent) is good and hopefully will bring in a few more horses," he said. "It's always exciting to get started at Arlington and maybe we'll have some warmer and dryer weather. "

Trainer Tom Swearingen has been a regular since 1988.

"The biggest thing I can see this summer is the purse increase," said the native of Lawrence, Kansas. "That's always nice to see. It seems like everyone has a good attitude coming into this meet and we are optimistic things can continue to get better. We just hope that it becomes a priority to try and get better racing in Illinois."

Swearingen, who averages about 20 wins per year, has about 20 horses in his barn. He loves Arlington's environment.

"That's my favorite thing," he said. "It's all about the atmosphere here. It's a beautiful place and it deserves to continue to be one the best.

"The biggest thing that can help is to get this gaming (casino) thing going. It's been a hard-to-come-by thing that we essentially need to stay competitive with the other states in the Midwest."

Ignacio Correas, whose Dona Burja was second in the Beverly D last year, expects to have 20 to 30 horses based at Arlington.

"I don't have the ammunition for (winning a title)," he said with a laugh. "I'll leave that for Larry and Wayne."

The native of Argentina saddled Blue Prize to victory in the $200,000 Top Flight Stakes at Aqueduct just three week ago. Last summer was his first at Arlington.

"This is a great place to train horses," said Correas, who has worked in New York and California since coming to the United States in 2001. "I like the way people treat you here. It's a very friendly environment and great place to raise your horses."

The trainer of 2016 Million winner, Roger Brueggemann, has nearly 30 horses set to go.

"We have about the same as last year," said Brueggemann, a former car mechanic who began on the Chicago circuit in 1992. "We're starting to claim more. I've got a few for the turf and a few for the dirt. I actually think I have some that like the Polytrack."

He hopes the purse increase is an encouraging sign.

"I hope things turn around for them," Brueggemann said. "No reason it can't. You'd think a city like Chicago could get something going here."

In addition to The Pizza Man, racing fans remember Brueggemann for saddling Work All Week in the 2014 Breeders Cup Sprint championship.

"He (Work All Week) is supposed to be a pony in our barn this summer," Brueggemann said. "If I would have had both of those horses (The Pizza Man) at the same time, what a ride that would have been."

Jermaine Bridgmohan hopes be riding quite a bit this summer.

"I've been in Canada (Woodbine) and did well the last four years," he said. "We went to Houston this winter and had a pretty good meet. I won some races for guys who came here (Arlington) so I decided to give it a try.

"I've always liked Arlington (was here with his brother Shaun in 2011) and done well here so I'd like to keep that going. I love the turf. The Polytrack is nice, and it's a beautiful racetrack."

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