04/02/2013 1:09PM

Santa Anita: Kentucky Derby spot in sight for Goldencents, Krigger

Barbara D. Livingston
A native of St. Croix, Kevin Krigger would be the first black jockey to win the Santa Anita Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Until this year, jockey Kevin Krigger has wanted nothing to do with Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May.

“I’ve avoided Derby Day,” he said. “I didn’t want to be there unless I was riding the race.”

Krigger may get his wish to attend America’s biggest race this year. He is the regular rider of Goldencents, the two-time stakes winner who starts as a contender in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on Saturday. A win or second by Goldencents will have Krigger booking a trip to Louisville, Ky., for the Kentucky Derby.

“We’re not there yet, but I pray we can get the job done and that we can win and get there on a high note,” he said.

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

Krigger, 29, is in new territory with Goldencents, who is trained by Doug O’Neill for a partnership. A native of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Krigger has been the only jockey for Goldencents, a colt by Into Mischief who has won 3 of 5 starts and $800,000. A win Saturday would give Krigger his first Grade 1 victory.

Over the last six months, Goldencents has compiled a strong resume.

Last fall, Goldencents ran second to division champion Shanghai Bobby in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park and won the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes in November, the richest win of Krigger’s career.

This year, the results have been mixed. Goldencents won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes as the 2-5 favorite at Santa Anita on Jan. 5, but was fourth behind Santa Anita Derby hopeful Hear the Ghost in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 9. In the San Felipe, Goldencents fought through a speed duel with favorite Flashback and faded in the final furlong to lose by 2 1/4 lengths.

With the Triple Crown in the near future, O’Neill said he never thought of replacing Krigger after the San Felipe.

“My first thought was, would I get fired?” O’Neill said.

In the last few weeks, O’Neill has tried to teach Goldencents to relax and not be too eager to run away early in a race. Krigger has watched Goldencents’s workouts and is certain the colt can do that in the Santa Anita Derby, run over 1 1/8 miles.

“He can settle for me,” Krigger said. “Last time, I told Doug he was ready to settle and then Flashback got to me and it took away the plan.

“I think the farther he goes, the better he’ll get. That may be hard to believe, but I think he can relax. If you see him relax in the Santa Anita Derby, they’re in trouble.”

Krigger has won 928 races in his career, but only four graded stakes. Two of those were aboard Goldencents.

Krigger’s first win came at Thistledown in Ohio in 2001, but he has ridden primarily on the West Coast, mostly in Northern California and Washington. The leading rider at Emerald Downs in 2005, Krigger rode at Hoosier Park and Suffolk Downs in 2007 and was back at Emerald Downs in 2010 and at Golden Gate Fields for most of 2011.

Krigger had ridden occasionally in Southern California through the 2000s and moved here at the start of 2012. More than a third of Krigger’s mounts this meet have come for O’Neill, and he also has ridden this winter for John Sadler and Neil Drysdale, among others. Through Sunday, Krigger ranked 10th in the jockey standings at Santa Anita with 18 wins, trailing leader Rafael Bejarano, who has 73 wins.

Earlier this year, Krigger was more than just the rider of Goldencents.

After one of the colt’s workouts, with an exercise rider was aboard, Krigger went back to the barn and walked Goldencents himself as he cooled out.

“He’s got a tremendous work ethic and a love for the horse,” O’Neill said.

Riding Goldencents has been the highlight of the year for Krigger, leaving him eager for the upcoming challenges – on Saturday and perhaps at Churchill Downs next month.

“I won’t get nervous,” he said. “I have to do what I’ve had to do. I try to believe in myself and my ability. I’ve been doing this for 12 years.

“This is what I’ve been working for, to try and capitalize on what I can.”

If he wins the Santa Anita Derby, Krigger will become the first black jockey to do so in the 75-year history of California’s most prestigious race for 3-year-olds. Krigger appreciates the historical ramification.

“That would be an honor for me,” he said. “I pray that I can be the one that gets it done.”