Goldencents, ridden by jockey Kevin Krigger, won the Grade III $100,000… (Benoit Photo / Associated…)
Horse racing's road to the triple crown has begun, and there is a touch of déjà vu already.
Trainer Doug O'Neill's Goldencents outbattled two Bob Baffert horses Saturday at Santa Anita in one of the several winter 3-year-old prep races to the Kentucky Derby, and its following Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The race was the Sham Stakes, a Grade III race worth $100,000, and the appearance of Goldencents was much anticipated, especially because, in a recent workout, he turned six furlongs in a lightning 1 minute 10 seconds.
This time last year, but a few weeks later in the Bob Lewis Stakes, O'Neill's I'll Have Another won convincingly and started a trek that took him to victories in the Derby and Preakness and all the way to the day before a run at the Belmont and a coveted triple crown, when he came up with a leg injury and was retired.
"We're gonna go again," an exuberant O'Neill said as he entered the winner's circle Saturday.
O'Neill, who was much more hesitant to talk about the triple crown during I'll Have Another's lead-up success, admitted things have changed after last year's experience.
"Our whole crew has a little more swag now," O'Neill said.
Hall of Fame trainer Baffert, whose Den's Legacy and Manando gave Goldencents a good run in the Sham, won the other big race of the day. Coil, competing in his final race before retirement, took the $150,000 Grade II San Pasqual Stakes for 4-year-olds and up.
Kevin Krigger, one of the few black jockeys riding at a major track, was given the ride on Goldencents by O'Neill after riding the horse for workouts several times. Goldencents ran the mile in the Sham in 1:36.5.
"I've been waiting for a horse like this for a long time," Krigger said.