After winning his first Kentucky Derby (Grade 1) last year with a modest priced horse ridden by a low-profile jockey, trainer Doug O'Neill is back under similar circumstances with Goldencents, who followed up his win in the $1 million Delta Jackpot (G3) by capturing the $100,000 Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita by 1 1/2-lengths as the prohibitive 2-to-5 favorite.
"Having a Derby contender, it's just such an exciting thing," said O'Neill. "The whole crew has a little swag after I'll Have Another. We're just enjoying the ride."
On the heels of earning $600,000 for winning the Delta Jackpot, the son of Into Mischief that went for just $62,000 at auction last year tacked another $60,000 on to his career earnings that now stand at $782,000.
"This horse is such a brilliant athlete and he's so amazing. Mentally he's just getting better every day," said O'Neill. "As the water gets a little bit deeper we know you have to have a versatile colt. We figured with Bob (Baffert) having two in there he would send the one."
Kevin Krigger, who moved his tack to Southern California last year and found only moderate success, has been aboard Goldencents since he debuted by breaking his maiden by over seven lengths at Del Mar this summer. Their only defeat came when running second to champion two-year-old Shanghai Bobby in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park in October.
"I've been waiting for a horse like this for a long time. Today, he showed he has tactical speed and we can do whatever we want with him," said Krigger. "I've seen many riders go through O'Neill's barn and there isn't one that he hasn't given a shot too. I'm appreciative of that."
Krigger may be a new name to most, but part of the Goldencents ownership group is not.
Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino's RAP Racing is one of three owners listed for Goldencents and Pitino is also part of a group that owns Avare, another recent three-year-old stakes winner trained by O'Neill.
The pair from the the Baffert barn rounded out the trifecta with pace-setter Manando tiring to third as the 7-to-2 second choice and Den's Legacy rallying along the rail to finish second at 6-to-1.
Goldencents is first with 24 points in the inaugural year of the Kentucky Derby participants being determined by earning points in selected prep races. Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Shanghai Bobby sits in second with 20 points while seven horses are tied for third with 10 points.
"We had circled the Sham as the first race on our list and all of these races that we targeted are under the heading of the horse doing good and being healthy. As he continues to do good, we'll look for whatever the next race is in a month or so," said O'Neill, indicating Goldencents could run next in the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita on February 2.
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