It may take winning Saturday's 133d Kentucky Derby for Wilmington's Rick Porter, owner of Derby contender Hard Spun, to get real bragging rights over some of his golf partners at the club he belongs to in Florida.
The rest of the foursome: The last coach to win a professional title in Philadelphia in one of the four major sports. The last Big Five coach to win an NCAA title. And another guy who has a couple of NBA championship rings and coached the 1992 USA Dream Team to Olympic gold.
"I was supposed to go down to the Derby," said former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, who now coaches Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fla. "But we have a recruit coming in."
He'll definitely be watching Hard Spun at a Derby party, Massimino said. He called Porter "a dear friend of mine" who has gotten a whole group of hoop guys into following his horses. Former 76ers star and coach Billy Cunningham, who can lay claim to coaching that last title team in '83, is planning to be at the Derby, Porter said. Cunningham was in the winner's circle after Hard Spun won a stakes race at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans in January.
Also, former Detroit Pistons and U.S. Olympic (and Penn, back in the '70s) coach Chuck Daly was with Porter in February for another of Hard Spun's races in Hot Springs, Ark. - as it happens, the only race Hard Spun has lost in six starts.
This isn't a new thing. They all followed along when another Porter-owned horse, Rockport Harbor, was on the Derby trail in 2005 before being derailed by a foot injury.
"I wear his [Rockport Harbor] hat three days of the week," Massimino said.
When another one of Porter's horses - the since-retired Round Pond, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff - ran at Gulfstream earlier this year, Massimino and Daly went to the race.
"We got a big bus," Porter said.
The 66-year-old car dealer didn't know any of the basketball coaches until he started wintering in Florida. As it happened, he joined the Jupiter Hills Club the same time as Cunningham.
"We parked our cars and walked in at the same time," Porter said. "He was the first guy I met at the club. He introduced me to Daly. At the time, Rollie wasn't there as much. He was coaching Cleveland State."
The rest of the guys had known each other forever. Massimino was Daly's assistant at Penn before coaching Villanova. Daly was Cunningham's assistant with the 76ers. Both are now in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
That first day in the parking lot, Porter didn't have to be told who Cunningham was. A lifelong Wilmington resident except for the five years he lived in Chadds Ford when he was a child, Porter was in the same class at the Tower Hill School as Pat Williams, who went on to be general manager of the Sixers when Cunningham was coach.
"I used to call Pat whenever I wanted tickets," Porter said. "I had an easy in to go up and watch the Sixers when Dr. J was playing."
He said he also was very familiar with Massimino back when he coached Villanova, including the 1985 NCAA title team.
"Just the actions - he was such a fun guy to watch, he and [John] Chaney," Porter said.
Porter's business was cars. His grandfather had a dealership in Newark, Del. At its height, Porter had 16 dealerships all over the region. In Devon and Norristown, on Frankford Avenue in the Northeast, and quite a few in South Jersey, from Burlington to Mays Landing. Now, basically in retirement, Porter is back owning just the one in Newark.
He bought his first horse in 1994. "That's not his hobby," Massimino said. "It's become his job."
In fact, Porter has become more and more a major player in the horse business and not just locally. He hasn't been shy about putting money into it. His filly Round Pond won last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff. Just retired, Round Pond will breed this year with the world's most expensive stallion, Storm Cat.
Hard Spun won't be the Derby favorite, but the horse has a real chance at Churchill Downs. The son of a Danzig was born at Betty Moran's Brushwood Stable in Malvern and is stabled at Delaware Park, trained by Larry Jones. Porter bought him for $400,000, which turned out to be a bargain.
Porter's former main trainer, John Servis, trainer of 2004 Derby winner Smarty Jones, helped select Hard Spun before the two parted ways last spring. Now, Porter also has horses with Steve Mick at Philadelphia Park; with Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz; and Tom Albertrani, trainer of 2006 Preakness and Travers winner Bernardini.
Porter knows he wears the black hat over mutually parting with Servis, a highly respected and popular trainer. Both have said they had philosophical differences in the running of the operation and probably needed a break from each other.
"I knew I was going to be looked at as the bad guy," Porter said.
Porter, who has about 40 horses in training, said he is a hands-on owner. He's around the barns a lot and communicating with his trainers, but he said he never tells them how to train a horse.
Jones said their arrangement has worked out really well. Jones said he called Servis first about Porter before agreeing to take on some of his horses. Servis gave his blessing, Jones said. That was important, Jones said, since the trainers had gotten to know each other a couple of years back. Porter said it was actually Servis who had first told him about Jones being a strong trainer.
Hard Spun's is Porter's second Derby horse. He owned Shammy Davis, trained by Nick Zito. In the 1997 Derby, Shammy Davis finished a nose ahead of Deeds Not Words to avoid last place. Their duel took place 25 lengths behind winner Silver Charm.
"I learned a good lesson: Don't run in any graded stake when you don't belong," Porter said. "Especially when you really don't belong."
Porter is easy to spot at big stakes races, often wearing a bright red blazer and always wearing a bowtie. Always accommodating to the media, Porter has become very accessible to fans, often writing about his horses on his Web site, rockportharbor.com. That has expanded the fan base a bit beyond traditional horseplayers.
The basketball guys get their reports first-hand. Massimino said a buddy from Philadelphia is going to Florida next weekend and plans to have a Kentucky Derby party. Since he can't get to Louisville, Massimino said he'll be there, but told his friend that if there's a Derby pool, "I want Hard Spun."
Philadelphia has had connections to three champion 3-year-olds in the last three years.
In 2004, Smarty Jones captured the public's imagination by winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and missing the Triple Crown by a length in the Belmont.
The 6-year-old is currently at stud at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., with a $100,000 fee. His first foal, born Jan. 10, 2006, a filly out of the mare Shoppingwithbetty, sold at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale last Nov. 5 for $250,000. The highest-priced Smarty Jones weanling to sell at auction in 2006 was a colt at the Select Sale in Japan in July for $556,521.
In 2005, Afleet Alex won the Preakness and Belmont stakes, falling a length short of the Triple Crown, finishing third in the Derby.
He stands at Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky., for a fee of $40,000 and his first foal, a Pennsylvania-bred colt out of Baby Lets Cruise, by Tale of the Cat, was born Jan. 21 at Bettina Jenney's Derry Meeting Farm in Cochranville.
2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was euthanized on Jan. 29 after a heroic struggle trying to recover from catastrophic injuries suffered in the Preakness.
His owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson of Chester County, have yet to determine where his ashes will remain.
A second full brother to Barbaro was born April 19 at Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington. The first was born last year.
Watch Hard Spun win the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes on March 24 at http://go.philly.com/
Saturday at 6 p.m. EndText