With last year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) victory by I'll Have Another still fresh in their minds, members of Team O'Neill were back at Churchill Downs the morning of April 28 in search of a repeat performance with Goldencents.
Trainer Doug 'Neill, who heads the barn that includes his brother Dennis as an assistant, said he is happy to be back at the scene of one of his greatest triumphs as a trainer.
"It's a great feeling," O'Neill said. "There is just so much history here and to be part of it is just incredible. Hopefully, we can add to it."
Bred by Lyra Miller's Rosecrest Farm near Paris, Ky., and Karyn Pirrello, Goldencents is from the first crop of stallion Into Mischief and is out of the winning Banker's Gold mare Golden Works. He was a $62,000 purchase by Dennis O'Neill at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s 2012 June sale of 2-year-olds in training when consigned by Southern Chase Farm, agent for Webb Carroll. In 2011, Carroll purchased the colt for $5,500 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall 2011 yearling sale.
Racing for a partnership that includes University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, Goldencents has four wins and a second from six starts with earnings of $1,250,000. He stamped his ticket to the Derby winning the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) two days before Pitino's basketball team won the NCAA basketball championship.
"Goldencents has got the mind and the physical talent so we're pretty pumped," the affable O'Neill said on the backside a day after his arrival. "I would say he is pretty darn close to equal to where I'll Have Another was last year. Unlike I'll Have Another, Goldencents has shipped a couple of times outside Southern California with success. I'll Have Another had only had one start outside Southern California (before winning the Kentucky Derby), and he came up with some shin issues in that race.
"I think we're bringing a horse who is physically talented and mentally ready. As long as he stays injury-free and settles in good here, I think we've got a big chance."
Because Goldencents completed his major work for the Derby before leaving California, O'Neill said the colt will just gallop this week in preparation for the May 4 classic.
"We'll just keep him going forward and try to keep him happy," O'Neill said. "He's done his training and we're happy right now."
O'Neill said he shipped 16 horses to Churchill Downs to be entered in other races at the track's spring meet so he could keep operations as normal as possible. He brought a party of 10 to work with them, led by his longtime assistant Leandro Mora and his current riding go-to-guy, Kevin Krigger.
"We brought a full barn here so we could bring a lot of help here and keep it as consistent as possible and like home," he said.
O'Neill is so closely following the regimen he followed last year that he began growing a a beard prior to the Santa Anita Derby. "It's our little playoff thing," O'Neill said of the new look.