01/10/2013 2:03PM

Brad Free: Goldencents, Krigger could be this year's version of I'll Have Another, Gutierrez

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Jockey Kevin Krigger hopes that the Doug O'Neill-trained Goldencents can take him to the Kentucky Derby.

Jockey Kevin Krigger could have stayed in Northern California and ridden a lot more winners than he rode the past year in Southern California. None of those Golden Gate winners would have put the 29-year-old rider on a trail to the Kentucky Derby.

It took Krigger less than one year in Southern California to find a dream mount – four rides on Goldencents produced three wins, including last weekend’s Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. If Goldencents makes it, Krigger will try to win the Kentucky Derby with his first Derby mount.

“When you get a Derby mount for the first time, you have to capitalize every moment, because you don’t know when the next time is coming,” Krigger said this week at Santa Anita, where he was busy working horses for Goldencents’s trainer Doug O’Neill.

It is habit for Krigger – showing up early and working hard.

“He’s here every morning at 5:30,” O’Neill said. “There are a lot of riders here with a good work ethic. Kevin’s is as good as any.”

Work ethic is how Krigger got the mount on Goldencents in the first place. He showed up one morning last summer to work an unraced 2-year-old for O’Neill and was thrilled.

“This might be one of the best horses I’ve been on,” Krigger said.

O’Neill also liked the chemistry he saw between Krigger and Goldencents.

“He was a kid with talent who got along with a really good horse,” O’Neill said and suggested Krigger and agent Tom Knust contact the majority owner to express interesting in riding the colt first out.

Goldencents was not the first highly regarded horse O’Neill considered for a low-profile rider. Months earlier, he gave Mario Gutierrez the mount on I’ll Have Another, whose four consecutive wins included the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

“Clients need to be comfortable and confident enough in the horse that they don’t need a guy at the top of the standings,” O’Neill explained. “You don’t get a lot of horse owners willing to give a guy a chance.”

Goldencents is owned by W.C. Racing (Glenn Sorgenstein and Joshua Kaplan), David Kenney, and University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. They gave Krigger a chance. Besides, the jockey was already making inroads in Southern California, where he had been riding full time since the start of the year.

Krigger cracked the top 10 at Santa Anita and Betfair Hollywood Park. He was eager and loyal, appealing traits to O’Neill.

“I love to see a hungry rider who gets along good with a horse, and just knowing there’s going to be continuity with that horse, and not having to worry he’s going to jump ship,” O’Neill said.

Krigger guided Goldencents to a debut romp Sept. 2 at Del Mar, a runner-up finish to Shanghai Bobby in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park, and a wire-to-wire win in the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot, followed by the Sham.

He will not jump ship. Prior to Goldencents, Krigger had won only two graded stakes, a pair of Grade 3’s on turf at Golden Gate Fields. It was easy to see why he relocated to Southern California.

“This is the top circuit. You find better horses and the majority of the riders are better riders. And here, every two minutes, you bump into a Hall of Fame trainer. Up north, who do you have for a Hall of Famer? Jerry and Russell,” Krigger said, referring to Hollendorfer and Baze. It’s a short list.

“By coming down here, I give away a few more winners, but I make a few more bucks,” he said. “We all want to win, but at the end of the day, we all think about the paycheck.”

Based in Northern California in 2011, Krigger won 165 races; his mounts earned $2.8 million. In 2012 based in Southern California, Krigger won just 73 races, but his mounts earned more than $3.6 million, including $600,000 in the Delta Downs Jackpot.

Business slowed the second half of 2012. Krigger won only four races during the Santa Anita autumn meet, and only three at Hollywood. This winter, things are looking up. He rode four winners from his first 19 mounts as parallels emerge between Goldencents and I’ll Have Another.

Both colts were relatively inexpensive. I’ll Have another was purchased for $35,000; Goldencents for just $62,000. Both began their careers in Southern California, both trained by O’Neill, and both matched with low-profile riders.

The impact of Goldencents on Krigger’s career is a developing story.

And while victory in a Triple Crown race would help establish Krigger on the national stage, it does not translate to automatic success on the local circuit.

Mario Gutierrez gave I’ll Have Another four flawless rides in 2012.

Since then, Gutierrez has made negligible impact. In the six months following the Preakness, Gutierrez has ridden 208 horses in Southern California and won 16 races (8 percent).

What happened? One theory is obligations at Hastings Racecourse in British Columbia precluded momentum in California. Also, trainers privately said they had difficulty communicating with his former agent. Gutierrez has since changed agents.

Gutierrez became dismissive and aloof, and unreliable to deliver trouble-free rides on a consistent basis. One recent example is O’Neill-trained He’s Had Enough, who has had a series of troubled trips under Gutierrez.

Krigger seems a likelier candidate for success. A native of St. Croix with a thick Virgin Islands accent, he is easy going and affable. His smile is genuine and his humor apparent, such as when he discusses finances – “If you aren’t making money, it’s just about worthless . . . unless we’re doing some exhibition races.”

Krigger, who began riding in 2001, is skilled at getting horses to relax. And, he can finish. While his outward mannerisms seem mellow, pity the jockey who crosses him.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

“He will bark at other riders if he feels he was wronged in a race,” O’Neill said. “He’s classy and yet very competitive. He is very much a fighter.”

As for the horse, could it be the Krigger personality is rubbing off on Goldencents? The colt was surprisingly relaxed in the Sham, rallying from off the pace for the first time. He was so relaxed that turning for home it briefly appeared Goldencents was in trouble.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned,” O’Neill said. “He had to niggle at him to get him back on the bridle, and that was something we haven’t seen yet from Goldencents. It is very important if you’re going to go a mile and a quarter.”

Krigger also was pleased. “It was the first time having to pass horses, and he was a little green. It’s good he had to run that race. It shows guts, it shows stamina.”

O’Neill and owners soon will plot a campaign for Goldencents, including a possibility of just two more starts before Kentucky – the Grade 3, $300,000 Southwest at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 18 and Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby on March 24. That idea is only preliminary.

Either way, Krigger looks forward to the learning process that will unfold.

“I have the perfect tool,” he said. “The horse is a young horse and he is still learning. The further we go, the better both of us are going to get.”

AZ Wildcat More than 1 year ago
Nice horse but there is no way he will be competitive at 10F.
Tom Hua More than 1 year ago
Doug makes a very good decision. I love Doug because he wants to give obscure riders a chance to succeed. Viva Doug O' Neil.
jttf More than 1 year ago
brad is suppose to be a so called expert. how delta jackpot winners finished in the money of any triple crown race ? zero. how many lasix using horses complete 3 full races when they are 2 and improve when they are 3 ? please get someone who actually is an expert, to write some good articles.
Greg Hopper More than 1 year ago
Good piece on Kevin, he's doing great with Goldencents! The article would have been complete WITHOUT taking cheap shots at Mario. He's Had Enough clearly doesn't like artificial surfaces so you can hardly blame the rider for losses in Grade 1 races at Hollywood and Keeneland.
Walfred More than 1 year ago
Well said!
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Watch the race again. If a jock has to "urge" a horse 30 times in the stretch, Im a little skeptical about just how far this will go. This is just the O'Neill flavor of the month. Once he runs into a real horse, he will disappear like Hes Had Enough.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
O'Neill is in the stage where hes throwing everything against the wall and hoping something sticks.
Jade Sword More than 1 year ago
Very unlikely Goldencents will be in IHA's hoofsteps. That was not a strong field, and he didn't win decisively at all.
Tee Jay More than 1 year ago
Hey Brad, you give a snarky dig about Mario in your celebrity billing for this jockey. You failed to mention O'Neil's drug suspension during the TC last year. It seems like you're re-writing history. when you retrace last year's run. Intentional omission in a promotional piece? But then again, you media guys like to sensationalize things that aren't there. Check out Goldenscents's dam Brad. The only Derby he can win with that bottom line is the Manitoba Derby where the bulk of his maternal ancestors ran. But you have him pegged for the Kentucky Derby so early in the New Year.? Sssh! You have a promo to do, right? Did it ever occur to you Brad that O'Neil might be using EPO on this horse? They can't really test all too well with such a small window that EPO has after injection. I don't thing Dougy is back to milkshaking. I'm not asking you Brad because you ain't sayin'. That's way to obvious as you try to create another Mario. But first you'll have to eliminate Mario and a good mud-raking ought to so it, right Brad? You shouldn't have taken this assignment Brad, you're a Swiss cheese PR agent at best.
Deborah Bauder More than 1 year ago
Mario was extremely kind when signing a photo for my Sister's 50th Birthday. I didn't realize there was a language barrier, but he persevered in figuring out what I was asking and my Sister now has it framed on her wall. He was anything but dismissive and aloof. I've read unkind comments about Mario's success as a rider after the Derby. I have been lucky enough to see him at Emerald Downs a few times. I think he is being smart. Mario has a team who obviously cares for him at Hastings and that is more important than quick success. Let him work his way to the So. Cal. circuit so he doesn't burn out as other young jockeys have done! Also, kuddos to Kevin Krigger. Had the fortune to bet on him several times at Emerald. We miss him up North, but am glad to see he has found success.
Jim Eggers More than 1 year ago
Kevin rode for us at EMD back in 2004-05 and really impressed us. Hard worker,honest and personable. Always wish him the best!
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Yeah, absolutely. Lets see Krigger get the horse beyond a mile without whipping the horse unmerciful first. Deal?
Bellwether4U More than 1 year ago
The Triple Dipper is just to damn tuff for to-days 3yo's...ty...