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Pitino relieved that Hurley, not Laettner, has Derby horse

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Rick Pitino is glad it's Bobby Hurley -- not Christian Laettner -- who also owns a Kentucky Derby horse.

Rick Pitino
Former Kentucky men's basketball coach Rick Pitino owns Kentucky Derby hopeful A P Valentine.
Pitino coached Kentucky and Hurley played for Duke when Laettner's last-second shot sank the Wildcats in the 1992 East Regional final.

Pitino's A P Valentine and Hurley's Songandaprayer are among Saturday's 17-horse field.

"As long as Christian Laettner didn't buy that horse, I'm all for it," the Louisville coach said Thursday. "He's not allowed to set foot in this state."

The Nick Zito-trained A P Valentine is Pitino's second Derby entry. Halory Hunter, also trained by Zito, finished fourth in 1998.

"This is a lot different than the horse we had last time," Pitino said. "Halory Hunter was a hard-knocking little horse that tried his guts out. This horse is very talented and royally bred."

Zito hasn't won the Derby since 1994 with Go For Gin. Pitino joked that he's gained more confidence in Zito since the trainer described the horse as "mad, furious and upset" after his fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass April 14.

That's how good my trainer is," Pitino said. "(Bob) Baffert's out there and he's a very talented trainer with talented horses, but he doesn't have the gift our trainer has. Our trainer is communicating with our horse one-on-one."

Pitino resigned as coach of the Boston Celtics in January after 3 1/2 disappointing seasons. His former Celtic Pride Stable now is called the Ol' Memorial Stable, a reference to a golf course in Tampa, Fla.

Pitino has had to secure about 400 Derby tickets and been swarmed by media all week. But the pressures of owning a horse don't compare to those that come with coaching a team, he said.

"Basketball is my passion, my vocation," Pitino said. "I'm in the horse business to have fun. It's Nick's job to worry, to get nauseous each night, to not get sleep -- all the things that go with being a horse trainer or a coach.

"We're very lucky. We have a great coach."