Just as the Louisville basketball team is preparing for its crucial postseason run, Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Derby hopeful is upon his defining moment.
Goldencents, the bay colt part-owned by Pitino who is considered a top Derby contender, faces his toughest rival yet - and will determine his future path - in Saturday’s Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.
Flashback, a speedy gray colt trained by Bob Baffert, looms like a top seed in the West region. After winning his debut, he romped in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, and he’s trained perfectly up to this race.
Goldencents, trained by Doug O’Neill, boasts an experience edge, as he’s won two straight graded stakes races. A win would increase the colt’s Derby point total to 74, likely assuring him a spot in the gate and allowing his connections to plot the path they choose to the first Saturday in May.
“I would say that if he runs well in the San Felipe, we may not run in the Santa Anita Derby,” said Dennis O’Neill, Doug’s brother, who bought Goldencents for $62,000 at the Ocala Breeders‘ Sale. “I could see us, if we had enough points, just training him right up to the Derby and making sure we had a really fresh horse for that.”
Last year, the O’Neill team orchestrated the perfect pre-Derby route for I’ll Have Another, who went from the Robert B. Lewis to the Santa Anita Derby. This year, the new Derby point system has played a major role in prep planning.
“It makes you really sit down and think your way through this, kind of like a chess game," Dennis O'Neill said. "It always seems to work out that those last two preps are the big preps, this one and the one before the Derby. I think that’s the way it’ll work out again this year. I’ll be curious to see as we get closer to the Derby if anybody gets left out."
O’Neill revealed the planned tactics for Goldencents and jockey Kevin Krigger after it was announced he drew post three, just outside of post two for Flashback in the eight-horse field.
“Flashback kind of dictates what we do,” he said. “If he breaks good, we sit right off him and if he breaks a step slow, we’re in front of him and kind of keeping him down inside. I love the post.”
Pitino’s RAP Racing and Dave Kenney own one-quarter interest in the colt as part of a partnership.
“Coach owns the tail,” Dennis O’Neill joked.
In an interesting side note, Pitino’s colt Gorgui - named for U of L center Gorgui Dieng - is slated to run Saturday in the opening race at Tampa Bay Downs, a few hours before the Cards’ tipoff against Notre Dame.