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O'Neill & Pitino On Course for Kentucky Derby

While most trainers never get to run in the Kentucky Derby, let alone win it, Doug O’Neill is three weeks away from doing the former in the hopes of accomplishing the latter.

His meal ticket this year for the $2 million race at Churchill Downs on May 4 is Goldencents, who, like I’ll Have Another in 2012, won last Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby. I’ll Have Another went on to shock the world by capturing the Run for the Roses. If Goldencents stays healthy, he’ll have his chance to do the same.

The brownish chestnut won the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in his 3-year-old debut, weakened to fourth after a controversial pace duel in the San Felipe, but rebounded beyond expectations (of bettors, anyway) to win the Santa Anita Derby with authority under Kevin Krigger, who has ridden the son of Into Mischief in each of his six starts.

Now, it’s on to Louisville for Team O’Neill.

“He came out of the Santa Anita Derby great,” O’Neill said. “He’s doing super but it’s one day at a time. He was back on the track for the first time today, jogging, and at this point, we would work him nine days out (at Santa Anita, where the colt is based) and fly him (to Kentucky) seven days out. That’s the tentative game plan.”

O’Neill is on record as saying how last year’s experience with I’ll Have Another benefited the barn, specifically in the knowledge that it can win the Kentucky Derby with the modus operandi it used in 2012. O’Neill doesn’t intend to deviate much, if at all, this year.

“Those are all pluses,” he said. “Just having been there is a huge plus, that and the confidence and calmness everyone gained. But it’s all about the horse. The fact that he’s traveled to New York, traveled to Louisiana, and he’s a pretty well-seasoned 3-year-old, has us pretty excited as well.”

Prominent in the Goldencents story is the fact that Rick Pitino owns five percent of the colt. Glenn Sorgenstein and Joshua Kaplan of Santa Monica, who race as W.C. Racing, own 75 percent and David Kenney of Yorba Linda owns 20 percent, but Pitino is the mainstream name that draws national headlines and exposure on ESPN and network TV. He is head coach of the Louisville Cardinals basketball team, which won the NCAA title last Monday night.

The 60-year-old Pitino also was elected to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame on Monday and with Louisville’s victory over Michigan, became the first coach to win the NCAA crown with two different teams, having done so with Kentucky in 1996.

“We’ve been texting back and forth,” O’Neill said. “Rick’s all fired up. He’s on Cloud Nine, which he should be. What a great run he’s been on, and we’re just glad to be part of Team Pitino. I feel like I’m the luckiest man alive.”

 

 

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