Trainer Doug O’Neill is headed back to the Kentucky Derby, and this time, Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is along for the ride.
O-Neill-trained Goldencents, co-owned by Pitino, won the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1) over even-money favorite Flashback by 1¼ lengths on Saturday not long before Pitino’s team rallied to beat Wichita State 72-68 at the Final Four in Atlanta to complete the horse-loving coach’s sporting daily double.
“These are the races you want to be a part of,” said O’Neill, whose I’ll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year. “This horse has been such a cool horse. I don’t think those big crowds and all the people at the Derby will be a factor for him, so I’m pumped.”
Ridden by Kevin Krigger, Goldencents covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.76. He could become the first black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby since Jimmy Winkfield won his second in 1902.
“Right here, right now is the biggest moment of my life,” he said. “It’s only going to get better—the horse, me, the team.”
Goldencents chased pacesetter Super Ninety Nine most of the way around before swinging to the outside to make his move on the turn for home. He had enough left when the gray Flashback came to him in the stretch.
“I wasn’t focused on where anyone was during the race, I was just focused on keeping Goldencents relaxed and comfortable,” Krigger said.
The outcome was quite different from the San Felipe on March 9, when Goldencents and Flashback chased a suicidal pace. Hear the Ghost won that race by a half-length, but he was scratched with a knee injury. Flashback finished second and Goldencents was fourth that day.
“This time it worked out perfect,” O’Neill said. “Just credit to Kevin. He didn’t panic early when the pace was a little bit hot the first quarter (mile), and was able to just chill and save horse. They’re a great team.”
The 29-year-old jockey from the U.S. Virgin Islands pumped both arms in celebration after winning his first Grade 1 race.
“I have never sat on any other 3-year-old that makes me feel the way he does,” Krigger said. “He’s fast, he does it easy, and he relaxes for me.”
Super Ninety Nine was another 8½ lengths back in third and paid $3.40 to show. Bob Baffert trains both horses. He also saddled fifth-place Power Broker in the eight-horse field and was denied a record seventh win in the West’s leading prep for the Kentucky Derby.
“We’re going to see how he comes out of it,” Baffert said of Flashback. “He was still running at the end. He’s still a young horse and we’ll wait for the dust to settle. He had every chance to win today and couldn’t get to that horse.”