New season, same favorite: Larry Rivelli looks to dominate at Arlington Park

It's a new season beginning Friday at Arlington Park.

But it seems to be the same old story when it comes to the barn that will house the most winning thoroughbreds.

Larry Rivelli is the good bet to claim an unprecedented sixth straight training title at the historic racecourse which begins a 71-day meet.

Rivelli's 76 wins last summer made him the first trainer to win five in a row since the track opened in 1927.

Wayne Catalano was second with 26 wins, followed by Ingrid Mason (22) and Chris Block (20).

"Larry gets ready for this meet," said Block, an Elk Grove resident who is one of the all-time winningest Illinois-bred trainers at Arlington. "His horses are primed for this meet and they get over the Polytrack well here. He'll be tough to beat."

Rivelli was tough to beat at Golden Gate Fields this past winter where he ventured for the first time in his career.

The former standout Crystal Lake South High School running back won 16-of-35 starts at the Berkeley, Calif., racetrack.

"I had a bunch of horses at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, a few at Gulfstream Park and the majority at Golden Gate," said Rivelli, a North Barrington resident who graduated from Crystal Lake South in 1989. "It was a good experience. I'm not too keen on all their rules but the management and racing secretary (Patrick Mackey) were fantastic."

Rivelli knew Mackey when he worked as a racing official at Arlington.

"He'd been bugging me for five years to go out there," Rivelli said. "He said 'Dude, come out here, it's Polytrack.' We knew it would be similar to Arlington's surface so we went and our horses did take to the track pretty well."

Now, they'll try to keep Rivelli's streak moving forward at Arlington.

He is in unchartered territory with his five straight crowns.

Last year, he broke the Arlington record of four in a row, which had been held by three others - William Hal Bishop in the early 1950s, Harvey Vanier in the mid 1990s and Catalano in the late 2000s.

"I don't see anyone beating him (Rivelli) this summer," said jockey Carlos Marquez Jr., son of Carlos Marquez Sr., a popular rider at Arlington in the 1960s and 1970s. "But I'm sure everyone would like to."

Marquez won his 3,000th race at Arlington last May 26 and plans to be riding for trainers Michael Reavis and Block this summer.

"This is where we all make our money in the summer," Marquez Jr said. "I like the turf course here. The surface is so smooth, like a pool table. I've been riding here a long time. The people are nice and this is the place to be in the summer. It's beautiful."

Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. who has won Arlington's last four jockey titles primarily riding for Rivelli, is back looking for his fifth consecutive crown.

Arlington fans will be looking at a new concept for Illinois racing.

Racing secretary Chris Polzin is carding Illinois-bred races that can also include Louisiana and Arkansas breds to enhance the fields and create more races for the state-bred program.

"It's a good idea because the purses in the Illinois program have kind of suffered the last few years so people weren't breeding as many horses," Rivelli said. "I happen to breed Illinois breds and I think Chris Polzin has a good idea incorporating Louisiana and Arkansas breds."

Rivelli said a lot of the Arkansas-bred horses don't have anywhere to run after their meet is over.

"And the same with Fair Grounds (LA.)," he added. "Even though some of them can go to Delta Downs.

"Even if you pick up one horse here or there, it can turn a six-horse race into an eight- horse. It can give the guys who have Illinois breds a chance to run where at times there might not have been enough horses to card a race.

"And the Arkansas, Louisiana and Illinois-bred programs have the same type of horses. It's not like you're going to run against a half-million dollar Kentucky bred. It's going to be all similar competition. It will benefit all guys who have Illinois breds."

Block has always had top-notch state breds so he is a big fan of Polzin's lead.

"There was the concern that Illinois-bred races weren't going to fill," Block said. "I think it was a clever idea by Chris and quite helpful for the Illinois program.

"They are considered open-company races so Illinois breds will get an owners' award bonus on top of the purse. So if you ask me, it's a win-win situation all the way around."

And the horses will be going around the course until Sept. 21.

"We're ready to go," said Rivelli, who really didn't envision quite the dominating streak he's had this decade. "It's funny, they just start adding up. We've just been fortunate that our horses have kind of fit the type of racing that goes on here.

"This summer I have more horses than last year. I'm probably going to have to run at a couple of different venues just because there aren't enough spots for them.

"But Arlington is our home. We love it here. We hope we get to stay around and that they get this bill passed (for slot machines) that they've been trying to get forever."

Trainer Larry Rivelli of Lake in the Hills watches race horses work out for the first time this season, on Wednesday April 15, in preparation for the Arlington Park season opener on April 29 in Arlington Heights. The pony boy, center right is Gonza Gonzalas on Willie Bag. Daily Herald File Photo
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.