Trainer Doug O’Neill, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another, is poised for another Run for the Roses – and his current top contender is a horse part-owned by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.
Goldencents, who won the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes in November, followed up with an impressive win in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Saturday, solidifying his place among early Derby hopefuls.
The Sham win vaulted Goldencents to the top of the Derby point standings, the new method for determining the 20-horse field that replaced a system based on earnings.
Unlike I’ll Have Another – a relative unknown on the 2012 Derby trail until his win in in the Santa Anita Derby – Goldencents is already a popular fixture on early Derby lists and has built a substantial fan base.
The son of new sire Into Mischief showed a different dimension Saturday when he came from off the pace; in his previous two wins, he led from gate to wire.
“Having a Derby contender is such an exciting thing,” O’Neill said after the race. “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.”
Pitino, under the name RAP Racing, owns Goldencents along with W.C. Racing and David Kenney.
Goldencents isn’t Pitino’s only 3-year-old prospect to show talent. Avare, a son of Johannesburg also trained by O’Neill, won the Eddie Logan Stakes over a wet fast track just moments before the Cardinals sealed their victory over rival Kentucky on Dec. 29.
Pitino’s trio of colts named for his players are in the early stages of their careers. Russdiculous, trained by O’Neill, is 0 for 3. Siva is set to debut Thursday at Gulfstream Park for trainer Dale Romans. Gorgui, with trainer Nick Zito, is training steadily in Florida for his debut.