SANTA ANITA DERBY | PURSE: $750,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8-MILES
Goldencents was back on top of his game April 6, turning back even-money choice Flashback to capture the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby by 1 1/4 lengths and handing trainer Doug O'Neill consecutive wins in the important West Coast test for 3-year-olds.
O'Neill, of course, parlayed a victory in last year's Santa Anita Derby by I'll Have Another into triumphs in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He'll have another opportunity with Goldencents, a son of Into Mischief owned by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino's RAP Racing, W. C. Racing, and Dave Kenney.
An on-track crowd of 33,005 was reported at Santa Anita on a mild, sunny afternoon.
As Goldencents crossed the wire in front, Pitino's Cardinals were competing against Wichita State in the Final Four in Atlanta, Ga. Louisville went on to win, 72-68, capping a great day for the longtime racing enthusiast.
Unheralded Kevin Krigger, who won four races a day earlier -- three for O'Neill -- was once again aboard Goldencents. They pushed Super Ninety Nine on a fast pace in the 1 1/8-mile event and then took over in the stretch, holding off a game Flashback through the final furlong.
"As I've said all along, I've started making history with this horse," said Krigger after his first Grade 1 victory. "This is just the start."
Krigger said he had no concern about the Derby's 1 1/4-mile distance for Goldencents.
"As long as I can get him to relax, his potential is untapped," he said.
O'Neill credited Krigger for a polished ride.
"He didn't panic early when the pace was a little bit hot the first quarter, and was able to just chill and save horse," O'Neill said. "Credit to Kevin and the horse. They're a great team."
Goldencents was sent off at odds of 6-1 in the eight-horse field after turning in a disappointing fourth-place finish in the San Felipe Stakes March 9.
Final time was 1:48.76 over a fast track. Flashback finished second, with Super Ninety Nine third and Tiz a Minister fourth. Trainer Bob Baffert sent out both Flashback, Super Ninety Nine, and fifth-place finisher Power Broker in his quest for a seventh Santa Anita Derby win.
The result assures Goldencents and Flashback of starting berths in this year's Kentucky Derby.
Goldencents, who surpassed $1 million in career earnings, comes from modest beginnings.
Bred in Kentucky by Rosecrest Farm and Karyn Pirrello out of the Banker's Gold mare Golden Works, the bay colt was bought for a mere $5,500 as a yearling at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale by Webb Carroll from a consignment of Pope McLean, agent. He got his early training at Webb Carroll Training Center, then sold for $62,000 to Dennis O'Neill, Doug's brother, at the 2012 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s 2-year-olds and horses of racing age sale from Southern Chase Farm, agent.
His victory in the Santa Anita Derby was his third in a stakes, following last year's score in the Delta Downs Jackpot in Louisiana and the Sham at Santa Anita Jan. 5. In addition, he ran second in last year's Foxwoods Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.
Expecting the longer distance of the Santa Anita Derby to be beyond his scope, Goldencents was overlooked in the wagering after giving way following a torrid pace duel with Flashback in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe. But he always looked like a winner this time around as he settled in second behind Super Ninety Nine, who led Goldencents and 36-1 shot Summer Exclusive through quarter-mile fractions of :22.72, :46.48, and 1:10.47.
Flashback, who saved ground from his rail post while stalking the leaders alongside stablemate Power Broker, advanced into third as Summer Exclusive backed out on the turn. Flashback, three wide for the drive under Garrett Gomez, looked poised for a rousing stretch duel with Goldencents -- the race everyone expected to see in the San Felipe. But Goldencents, after disposing of Super Ninety Nine, had much in reserve as he repelled the challenge of Flashback under some urging from Krigger.
Goldencents, who paid $15, $5.40, and $3.40 for the win, improved his lifetime mark to four wins and a second from six starts with earnings of $1,250,000. The Santa Anita Derby victory was worth $450,000 and 100 points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby.
O'Neill, who said he wasn't sure when the colt would ship to Kentucky for the May 4 Derby, noted that he had been trying to get Goldencents to relax more in his morning works.
"I think it did [help]," he said. "I think it saved some more energy for the afternoon. I was getting caught up into he was just a fast horse. It is fun to watch a horse work one ten and change, but you do worry it saps some of their energy for the afternoon, so we just tried to stay away from that. Whether that has anything to do with it or not, it worked today."
Flashback also solidified his Derby status with 40 points for second in just his fourth lifetime start. The flashy gray, who earlier this season won the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and ran second in the San Felipe, paid $3 and $2.20. He completed a $35.60 exacta.
Super Ninety Nine, who came into the race with 10 points toward a Derby slot after his win in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park March 16, picks up 20 more for his third-place effort and is likely a little short of making the field. His show price was $3.40.
Tiz a Minister, third in the San Felipe last time out, was followed by Power Broker, Storm Fighter, Summer Exclusive, and Dirty Swagg. San Felipe winner Hear the Ghost was scratched from the race after sustaining a minor leg injury in training and will be sidelined through the Triple Crown series.
Baffert was satisfied with the efforts of his horses.
"We were all in a good position turning for home," Baffert said. "When [Flashback] got to the outside [Goldencents] just quickened on him. The winner ran a really good race. They ran pretty fast times.
"Super Ninety Nine was in a good spot. He probably doesn't want to go that far. Flashback, he ran a good race. Goldencents, he's a good horse. He's going to be really tough [in the Derby].
"We're going to wait and see how he [Flashback] comes out of it. He was still running at the end. He's still a young horse and we'll wait for the dust to settle. He had every chance to win today and couldn't get to that horse."