O'Neill, Krigger chase Derby history together
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A little-known jockey and a lightly regarded horse pulled off an upset victory for trainer Doug O'Neill at last year's Kentucky Derby.
On Saturday, he'll give another relative unknown a chance of not only winning the big race, but also joining him in the record books if that happens.
Kevin Krigger, the first black jockey in the Derby since 2000, will be aboard O'Neill's Goldencents, considered a much stronger contender than last year's winner, I'll Have Another.
Only six trainers have won consecutive Derbies in 138 years, and no black jockey has won since 1902.
The 29-year-old Krigger, who hails from St. Croix, Virgin Islands, had some success on the smaller Northern California circuit before trying his luck in the big leagues of Los Angeles.
O'Neill is a friend of Krigger's agent, Tom Knust. So Krigger started working out Goldencents in the morning about six weeks before the colt's racing debut.
And suddenly, the Derby rookie was the colt's regular rider. They've won four of six races together, including the Santa Anita Derby, which I'll Have Another won last year before heading to Churchill Downs.
One of Goldencents' owners is Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, who has a 5 percent share in the colt. Krigger never had watched a college basketball game start to finish until he saw the Cardinals beat Michigan for the national championship earlier this month.
“That made me a Louisville Cardinals fan,” he said.
Krigger figures to pick up a lot more fans of his own if he can win the Derby, a feat no black jockey has accomplished since Jimmy Winkfield won his second straight in 1902. He keeps a picture of Winkfield in his locker.
Krigger has wanted to be a jockey since he was 5, when he hopped on a horse his grandmother gave him. He would watch races on TV, and “ride his mother's couch like it was a horse,” his father, Albert Krigger, said.
When he was in kindergarten, Krigger told his mother about his future career plans.
“She thought I was kidding,” he said.
Krigger, who came to the U.S. in 2001, will have about 30 friends and family — including his fiancee and his four children, ages 2 to 11 — cheering him on Saturday.
“I've always thought of myself as the best rider in the world, and there's no reason why I shouldn't,” he said. “Goldencents is the horse that is going to help me prove that.”
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