Benoit Photo

O'Neill Tries Tactical Change for Goldencents

Free-running colt slows down for six-furlong drill in advance of Santa Anita Derby.

Sham Stakes (gr. III) winner Goldencents  had his final major drill for the upcoming $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), going six furlongs on a fast main track in 1:14 flat March 29.

It was the fastest of nine moves at the distance at Santa Anita Park, the average time of which was 1:16.22. Exercise rider Jonny Garcia was aboard the bay son of Into Mischief , who looks to improve on his disappointing fourth-place finish last out in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 9.

"Now all we have to do is stay injury-free and gallop into the big one," trainer Doug O'Neill said of the April 6 Santa Anita Derby. "Jonny's been doing just a brilliant job of trying to slow him down. The horse has been running well enough that I didn't put a lot of energy into changing up the morning activities because he kept running good.

"But after the San Felipe, and how the race didn't unfold perfectly and we didn't get the results we wanted, I figured, you know what? I really need to start putting some energy into getting him to slow it down.

"If you're going to experiment, this is the best time to do it," O'Neill added. "That's why they call these races preps. We've got to learn something now. Hopefully, what we've implemented will get the results we want to see in the Santa Anita Derby. That's the goal."

O'Neill was on the verge of possibly winning the Triple Crown in 2012 with I'll Have Another  until a last-minute injury forced the colt to miss the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and ultimately be retired. He is counting on Goldencents as his best hope of getting back on this year's Triple Crown trail.

With 29 points in the bank for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 4, Goldencents is well positioned to make the cut of 20 starters under the new qualifying system. The Santa Anita Derby offers 100 points to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third, and 10 for fourth.

"Being the first year, no one really knows what to make of it," said O'Neill of the new system instituted by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the Kentucky Derby.

"But I do think you can't rest on your laurels as a 2-year-old nowadays," O'Neill added. "You've got to really be productive in these 3-year-old preps. It makes it interesting, and I guess you hope a good horse doesn't have to scramble to try to get there."

Goldencents, owned by Rick Pitino's RAP Racing, W.C. Racing, and Dave Kenney, has won three of five starts while earning $800,000. His victory last year in rich Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III), along with a runner-up finish in the Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (gr. I), would have been more than enough to qualify the bay colt for this year's Derby under the old system of counting graded stakes earnings.

Eight are currently listed as probable for the Santa Anita Derby: Flashback , Garrett Gomez; Hear the Ghost, Corey Nakatani; Goldencents, Kevin Krigger; Super Ninety Nine , Martin Garcia; Power Broker, Rafael Bejarano; Tiz a Minister, Joe Talamo; Storm Fighter, Gary Stevens; and Dirty Swagg, no rider.