04/30/2013 2:55PM

Kentucky Derby: Krigger's journey hits peak with ride on Goldencents

Shigeki Kikkawa
Kevin Krigger celebrates after winning the Santa Anita Derby aboard Goldencents, his mount in the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The phone calls would come often from the school Kevin Krigger attended, with the same message for his father, Albert.

“Mr. Krigger, your son and daughter are out on the road with the horses,” he was told. “They’re supposed to be in school.

[DERBY WATCH: Top 20 Kentucky Derby contenders with odds and video]

Albert Krigger would come home and remind his son about the importance of going to school.

“But, tomorrow, same thing,” he remembered.

“He was into it, from the time he was really small,” Albert Krigger said. “I would give him money to go buy shoes, or books, and he’d buy more horse stuff – wraps, bandages, brushes. He had the smallest, fastest, best-looking horse.”

The Kriggers – father and son – have been side by side for years, but their bond has grown closer in recent weeks for an obvious reason: Kevin, 29, is going to be riding in the Kentucky Derby for the first time Saturday, aboard Goldencents, marking quite a journey from those early days in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands.

“I always liked horses as a kid,” Kevin Krigger remembered, “and I was small, so I got into horse racing. Straight to horse racing at 17.”

Kevin Krigger was standing along the outer rail at Churchill Downs, watching horses train, the famed twin spires across the way. He took it all in complacently, befitting the cool he has shown in the saddle aboard Goldencents. But Albert was pacing in circles.

“I’m going to be all over the place Saturday,” Albert Krigger said. “I don’t keep still.”

Kevin Krigger is one of the more intriguing stories in this Derby. His presence is obviously reminiscent of that of Mario Gutierrez, who won last year’s Derby on I’ll Have Another. Both I’ll Have Another and Goldencents are trained by Doug O’Neill. Krigger, though, will be seeking to become the first black jockey to win the Derby since 1902.

[2013 KENTUCKY DERBY: Get PPs, contender profiles, live updates]

“I’m ready for it,” Krigger said.

He’ll have quite the entourage watching. In addition to his father, his mother, sister, fiancée, and four kids – daughters Kyrisha, 12, and Kynaira, 3, and sons Kevin Jr., 7, and Kunzai, 6 – will be in attendance. His sons were dressed to impress at the Santa Anita Derby, with sharp suits that stood out in the winner’s circle.

“They always come to the races pretty sharp,” said Krigger, who speaks with the lilting accent of the Caribbean. “They know how to come out.”

Krigger’s ascension in racing is quite improbable. Albert had no involvement in racing, other than being a fan. In St. Croix, he worked as a mechanic on heavy machinery and “made rum.”

“I worked in a rum factory,” he said.

Though a cousin of Albert’s got into racing, Kevin – Albert’s only son, and the second of his four kids – got interested on his own.

“It’s what he always wanted to do,” Albert said of Kevin.

Was he scared for his son?

“No, because I knew that he wasn’t scared,” Albert replied.

Kevin Krigger rarely has competed in big races, and usually has ridden far from the spotlight. But after climbing up the jockeys’ standings at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, he was contacted by Southern California-based jockey agent Tom Knust in December 2011 soon after Knust’s client Patrick Valenzuela said he was going to retire.

“He didn’t have too much hesitation,” Knust said.

Because the Southern California jockey colony has names such as Rafael Bejarano, Victor Espinoza, Martin Garcia, Garrett Gomez, Mike Smith, and Joe Talamo – and Gary Stevens is now back, too – it has been challenging for Krigger to make a significant impact. He did well at the recently concluded Santa Anita meeting, though, tying for ninth place with 25 wins.

But what enabled Krigger to get a choice mount like Goldencents was sheer hustle. Last summer, at Hollywood Park, he was out working horses when O’Neill gave him a chance to breeze Goldencents. Krigger and Knust lobbied hard to ride Goldencents in his debut race weeks later at Del Mar. Goldencents won, and Krigger has been aboard ever since.

“You can’t find ’em if you don’t come out early,” Krigger said. “It’s not like the owners are calling me to put me on their best ones. I’ve got to go out and search.”

For O’Neill and the owners of Goldencents, they’ve never wavered from Krigger’s corner, even after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the San Felipe, the race preceding the Santa Anita Derby. O’Neill blamed himself for the performance of Goldencents. The karma with Krigger was rock solid.

“Not only is he a good person,” O’Neill said, “but he has great hands and he has great chemistry with Goldencents.”

Julio Gonzalez More than 1 year ago
O"Neill knows that he has the best chance with this horse since the horse has romped over IMLD, My Lute and the these have competed well against the likes of Pletgers horses and Browns horses. If this colt is in the grove he will dominate this field. Great chance for Kevin and O'neill to shine. Good luck Kevin
Old timer More than 1 year ago
How often do we see an owner or trainer use a young jockey like Kevin on their horse in their early races, but then when the Derby comes around, they go looking for one of the top names and boot out the young kid. You have to give Doug O'Neill credit for staying with this young man. He obviously has the talent. Best of luck to Kevin and Doug and Goldencents.
Frank Leverone More than 1 year ago
From a handicapping standpoint, one thing I do pay attention to when new riders hit the scene in SoCal is - does Doug O'neil put them on his horses. It seems that someone on the O'neil team can spot riding talent before the numbers show up in the standings. Tyler Baze (and Michael too I think), Gutierrez, Maldenado, Krigger etc. all got live mounts with O'neil early on. If O'neil gives a rider a shot, they usually can ride so, watch those riders on all their mounts; you might get a good price.
Ronald Samuels More than 1 year ago
A good trip and jockey confidence will win this race. The horse is faster than the field.
Ronald Samuels More than 1 year ago
History is gonna be made! Jockey & Horse is in one accord.
Larry Rudolph More than 1 year ago
Fellas, The only horse that screams distance that has decent spedd figures is Orb. The others who breeding says can run the distance have shown to be too slow. Beyers matter a lot. Look at past Derbys and see where the highest beyer at the mile and an eigth have finished. You will find a lot of derby winners. Goldencents is a quality horse with distance questions as is Verrazano. The pace of the race supports his running style. I think he will be there.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
What a "turn around" this kid could not make it at such low level tracks as Suffolk, Cby, then just average in N. CA. Now, he looks like he can ride. Good luck kid
Lise McLain More than 1 year ago
Hi! Good luck, Kevin, on Goldencents in this year's Kentucky Derby! O'Neill has had some violation infractions (not sure if that is the right word to use) in his training career so, hopefully, he has learned some important lessons to "stay clean" so to speak. I hope that Goldenscents is not needlessly medicated because that is "the" horse that I may bet on, among others. Additionally, I recently saw a photo of Goldenscents as a very young foal. He is so cute. I like seeing the babies, watch them grow up, watch them race, and, hopefully, have a good life in retirement. None of this abuse, neglect, abandonment, and going to the slaughter house crap when leaving the racetrack. It is disgusting! Once again, good luck, Kevin, with Goldenscents! Both of you have great potential. Even the name of the horse is beautiful. Thank you! Lise from Maine
Gary Camejo More than 1 year ago
Okay my brother as i said to you after the San Felipe, just be cool and ride your race and focus. Forget the hype around. The entire Caribbean is behind you.
James More than 1 year ago
Been Following, So Cal racing since the 80's, really like Kevin, always gives you a honest ride, he is classy young man and deserves to be here. best to you Kevin.