Updated on 04/09/2013 9:41AM

Santa Anita Derby: Goldencents sends O'Neill, Pitino to Kentucky Derby

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Benoit & Associates
Goldencents, ridden by Kevin Krigger, takes the Santa Anita Derby, sending trainer Doug O'Neill back to the Kentucky Derby for the second straight year. The horse is owned by a partnership that includes University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Doug O’Neill enjoyed winning the Santa Anita Derby last year so much he decided to do it again. Guess he said, I’ll Have Another.

Goldencents, now starting on the path O’Neill trod last year with I’ll Have Another, ran his way into the May 4 Kentucky Derby with a 1 1/4-length victory over favored Flashback on Saturday in the Grade 1, $750,750 Santa Anita Derby before an ontrack crowd of 33,005.

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

Goldencents is owned by a partnership that includes Rick Pitino, the head coach of the University of Louisville basketball team, which won its Final Four semifinal game on Saturday, 72-68, against Wichita State. As with I’ll Have Another – who was owned by Paul Reddam - Goldencents was purchased at auction by O’Neill’s brother, Dennis. He cost $62,000 as a 2-year-old. He has now earned $1,250,000.

Goldencents ($15) atoned for a fourth-place finish in last month’s San Felipe Stakes, in which he and Flashback, who ran second in that race to Hear the Ghost, dueled early, costing both dearly. This time, Goldencents was able to stalk pacesetter Super Ninety Nine, then repelled the bid of Flashback when they hooked up at the top of the lane.

The first two crushed the rest of the field, with Super Ninety Nine – a stablemate of Flashback in Bob Baffert’s barn -- a distant 8 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Tiz a Minister was fourth and was followed, in order, by Power Broker, Storm Fighter, Summer Exclusive, and Dirty Swagg.

Hear the Ghost was scratched from the race on Thursday with a knee injury.

Goldencents completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:48.76.

“Unbelievable. We’re going back to Kentucky,” O’Neill said in a winner’s circle that was as crowded as a Japanese subway at rush hour.

Goldencents handled the commotion without any signs of nervousness, similar to jockey Kevin Krigger’s ride in the Santa Anita Derby. As O’Neill did last year with Mario Gutierrez, who rode I’ll Have Another to victories in the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness, O’Neill has never wavered from sticking with the unheralded Krigger, who gave Goldencents a flawless ride on Saturday to earn his first Kentucky Derby mount.

O’Neill said Goldencents being able to stalk early “has a lot to do with Kevin.”

“We’ve been doing a lot in the mornings with the horse, but a lot of it has been in Kevin’s hands,” O’Neill said.

Super Ninety Nine broke sharpest of all and set off quickly for the lead. He crossed over toward the rail, allowing Goldencents to get outside of him. Flashback, starting from the rail, was very aggressive behind horses the first quarter-mile but then seemed to settle better as the field advanced up the backside.

Super Ninety Nine set splits of 22.72 seconds for the opening quarter, 46.48 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:10.47 for six furlongs. As the field neared the quarter pole, Super Ninety Nine was trying to hold off Goldencents, who was going the better of the two, and then Flashback loomed up three paths wide, his escape made possible when stablemate Power Broker began to fade.

Flashback loomed dangerously as he and Goldencents left Super Ninety Nine in the dust, but Goldencents never wavered. He gradually increased his lead coming to the sixteenth pole, and then Krigger hand-rode him from there to the wire.

“He wasn’t pulling at all early,” Krigger said. “I just wanted to keep him going at the same pace.”

Garrett Gomez, aboard Flashback for the first time, said he thought at the quarter pole that Flashback would overtake Goldencents, “but he didn’t pick it up the way I thought he would.”

“He did pick it up, but not enough,” Gomez said.

Goldencents, a colt by Into Mischief, has now won 4 times in 6 starts. He won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes earlier this meet on Jan. 5, and last year, at age 2, won the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot and was second in the Grade 1 Champagne.

Victory in the Santa Anita Derby was worth 100 points per the system put in place this year by Churchill Downs to determine the Kentucky Derby field. Flashback earned 40 points.

This Santa Anita Derby was run following enhanced security for all runners for the 72 hours leading up to the race. The security was paid for in part by Golden Eagle Farm, whose Storm Fighter finished sixth.