Odds-on favorite Goldencents got his start on the Triple Crown trail off to a solid start with a 1 1/2-length victory in the $100,000 Sham Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 5 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
With regular pilot Kevin Krigger aboard, Goldencents stalked pacesetter Manando on the outside before taking the lead past mid-stretch. Under right-handed urging he cleared his rivals at the sixteenth pole, then finished up in workmanlike fashion under left-handed encouragement. The final time for the one-mile test for 3-year-olds was 1:36.50 over a fast main track.
A pair of Bob Baffert trainees, Den's Legacy and Manando, ran second and third, respectively.
With the victory, Goldencents earned 10 points to move into first place in the new standings for the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with 24 points. The first stakes winner for first-crop sire Into Mischief captured the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) in his most recent start Nov. 17 and ran second to likely 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) prior to that.
Goldencents is trained by Doug O'Neill, who won last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) with I'll Have Another . The sleek bay colt is owned by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino’s RAP Racing, W.C. Racing, and Dave Kenney.
"Having a (Kentucky) Derby contender is such an exciting thing," O'Neill said. "This horse is such a brilliant athlete and so amazing mentally. He's just getting better every day.
"The whole crew, like I said earlier, has a little swag after I'll Have Another, so we're just enjoying the whole ride."
Bred by Lyra Miller's Rosecrest Farm near Paris, Ky., and Karyn Pirrello, Goldencents is out of the winning Banker's Gold mare Golden Works. He was a $62,000 purchase as a 2-year-old last June by Dennis O'Neill at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. 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.
Goldencents, who broke his maiden in his debut at Del Mar in September, raced without the lead for the first time in his four-race career in the Sham. After breaking alertly and pulling a bit heading into the clubhouse turn, he settled into second as Manando hustled to the front from the far outside for Martin Garcia. That allowed Krigger to angle Goldencents off the inside and he tracked the leader about a length away on the outside while Manando clipped off quarter mile splits of :23.00, :46.31, and 1:10.06.
Asked for a bit more by Krigger at the quarter pole, Goldencents engaged Manando in the lane and eventually gained control under encouragement.
"From the gate, I got a little bump from (Den's Legacy) on the inside, and by then Martin (Garcia) had already cleared us a little bit," Krigger said. "That made me have to ride a smart race by taking him back and putting him on the outside. He's always been relaxed, but he was so relaxed that I could ride him confidently from behind, too. He's doing everything right. We're keeping our fingers crossed and praying that he stays sound.
"When we turned for home, it felt like it was going to be a tough battle, but by the time we got about 50 yards from the eighth pole, I could feel him gathering himself up to make that huge surge," Krigger continued. "He galloped out real good. I can't complain."
Den's Legacy and Garrett Gomez rallied along the rail through the homestretch to gain the place spot over stablemate Manando by half a length. Dry Summer and Dirty Swagg trailed in a field of five that included one scratch, Greeley Awesome.
"As the races go on and the fields get bigger, you got to have versatility, and he showed it today," O'Neill said. "Kevin is a great rider and he's as one with the horse. It's beautiful."
Goldencents is now 3-for-4 with one second in his brief career, with earnings of $782,000. The colt had been training superbly for his sophomore debut, including a pair of six-furlong bullet moves at Santa Anita coming into the race.
The winner carried 120 pounds and paid $2.80, $2.10, $2.10. Second choice Den's Legacy, a grade III winner on grass, was making his first start on dirt since running fifth in Santa Anita's Frontrunner Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 29. The third-place finisher in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) last time out returned $2.60 and $2.10. The exacta was worth a paltry $5.40. Manando, making his first appearance against winners, ran a credible third and paid $2.20.
O'Neill said he has not made his mind up on what's next for Goldencents.
"We'll just huddle up (with the owners)," he said. "We were very confident about this race but you just never know till it's over. Now that it's over, we'll put our heads together and look at upcoming races and if he stays injury-free, we'll get there... We're all pumped up."