01/05/2013 6:51PM

Santa Anita: Goldencents shows new dimension in Sham, puts O'Neill on Derby trail

Benoit Photo
Kevin Krigger, a 29-year-old native of the Virgin Islands, is all smiles after winning the Sham on Goldencents.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Showing the versatility that could make him dangerous on the Kentucky Derby trail this spring, Goldencents won for the third time at his fourth different racetrack, and came from slightly off the pace when capturing the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita, a performance that puts his trainer, Doug O’Neill, back in the Derby spotlight.

O’Neill won the Derby and Preakness last year with I’ll Have Another, an experience he said provided the confidence that he and his team could win America’s most-coveted race.

“We feel like we have the ability and the mental toughness to do that now,” O’Neill said after the Sham.

Goldencents is O’Neill’s best 3-year-old at present. On Saturday, he showed the ability and the mental toughness to sit behind a horse who was intent on the lead, and still run him down.

Manando, sent from the outside post in the field of five in the one-mile race, was hustled to the lead. Goldencents, under jockey Kevin Krigger, let him go, deftly tucked behind him to get an outside, stalking position, then went after Manando in earnest on the far turn. Goldencents finally wore him down in the final furlong and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Den’s Legacy, who closed along the rail to edge Manando by a half-length for second.

Dry Summer and Dirty Swagg trailed badly in the field of five.

Goldencents ($2.80) was heavily favored off his first three starts, which included a victory in the Delta Jackpot, and a second-place finish behind likely divisional champion Shanghai Bobby in the Champagne Stakes. Goldencents attracted $184,410 of the $221,760 bet to show.

Goldencents completed one mile on the fast main track in 1:36.50. The early fractions of 23 seconds, 46.31, and 1:10.06 all belonged to Manando.

Although Goldencents had been on the lead in the early going of his three prior starts, O’Neill and Krigger knew that there was a strong chance Manando would be sent from the outside stall, so they devised a back-up plan, and were satisfied Goldencents properly acquitted himself.

“As the water gets deeper, you’ve got to be versatile,” O’Neill said.

Goldencents salvaged the day for O’Neill, who watched on television as recent purchase Mudflats flopped in the Jerome at Aqueduct.

“This is great,” O’Neill said. “What a special horse.

"It’s great to be in this game regardless of what class of horse you have, but it’s special with a Derby horse.”

Krigger has had the mount from the start last summer at Del Mar, and O’Neill showed last year, with Mario Gutierrez, that he is not afraid to run in big races with riders who are not marquee names.

“The great thing with Kevin is win, lose, or draw, you know you have him for upcoming races,” O’Neill said. “It’s nice for the horse to have that continuity.”

Krigger, 29, is a native of the Virgin Islands who, according to Equibase, has won 913 races lifetime and finished 68th in the nation in purse earnings in 2012.

“He’s got that Virgin Islands, cocktail-in-your-hand mentality,” O’Neill said.

Goldencents, a colt by Into Mischief, was purchased as a 2-year-old in training for $62,000. He is owned by a partnership that includes Dave Kenney, the W.C. Racing stable of Josh Kaplan and Glen Sorgenstein, and University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino’s RAP Racing.

O’Neill said he would look for another race for Goldencents in about a month. If that schedule holds, the next option here would be the Grade 2, $200,000 Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 2. But with four starts at four tracks, Goldencents has proven he has no problem traveling.

“This is an amazing athlete, and he’s getting better every day,” O’Neill said.