Meet Trainer, and Coach, Jimmy DiVito!
Jimmy DiVito was born into a horseracing family in 1950. He lived in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood for his first year then his father, trainer Pete DiVito, moved the family to Southern California.
“My dad had the opportunity to train some good horses for some good owners,” DiVito began. “He trained for Lynn (L. C.) Howard, the son of Charles Howard, the owner of Seabiscuit. He also trained for actress Betty Grable, and big-band leader Harry James. At that time, Frank Sinatra sang with the Harry James band.”
The DiVito family returned to this area in 1965 when Jimmy was 15. He is a product of Elk Grove High School (the Grenadiers), Class of 1968. While a Grenadier DiVito played baseball and was an all-conference second-baseman. “Sure, thoughts of bigger things crossed my mind, but no scout looks at a 5’3” guy weighing 115 pounds. My final growth spurt came too late, he chuckled.”
DiVito worked for his dad during the summers while in high school. “I took out my exercise rider license at 16,” he stated. “At 18 I earned my jock’s license and actually rode in eight races, but I was still growing and I knew there was no career for me as a rider.
“So, in 1969, I earned my assistant trainer license and went to work for my dad. I assisted him for four years before making the move to go out on my own,” continued DiVito.
DiVito built his stable slowly, from a small beginning. “One of my first horses was Beda Joya,” DiVito related, “named by my dad. I thought the clever thing to do was ship her to Atlantic City Racetrack where nobody knew me or the horse, drop her down, and win a race. Well, that part worked, since I got my first career win, but the horse was claimed away from me.
“Besides getting my first career win, though, the other bright spot was the fact I had the ill-fated Don McBeth ride her for me,” reminisced DiVito. “At least I got to meet that fine gentleman and have a winner’s circle picture with him on my first win.”
DiVito has another ‘one-time’ distinction. “In 1995 Sportsman’s Park ran the Tony Skoronski Handicap for the one and only time. It was named for a jockey who had much success at that oval,” he explained. “I won that race with Exclusive Praline, with Randy Meier up.”
If you don’t remember Exclusive Praline, certainly DiVito’s Coach Jimi Lee should ignite your memory.
“I bought him for $15,000 from the Ocala sales as a two-year-old,” DiVito explained. “Since he was for my partnership with Lee Battaglia, we named him Coach Jimi Lee. Lee is a gymnastics coach, and I am a coach of horses, and my grandmother always wrote my name as Jimi; thus, Coach Jimi Lee!”
Coach Jimi Lee holds the rare distinction of holding the track and state record for six furlongs in Illinois and in Iowa, at Hawthorne and Prairie Meadows, respectively. In his distinguished career Coach Jimi Lee has earned over $860,000.
“He due to come back in mid-April,” said DiVito of Coach Jimi Lee. “He’s won the Iowa Sprint Handicap three years in a row, and we’re going for four with his first 2007 start.” One could say Coach Jimi Lee owns Prairie Meadows. Not only has he won the aforementioned handicap thrice, he has won all three of Prairie Meadows’ sprint stakes.
“We’re continuing to develop “Coach” horses,” concluded DiVito, “but it will be tough to come up with another Coach Jimi Lee.”