Doug O’Neill knows a thing or two about training a winning horse. After I’ll Have Another’s impressive stretch of wins last year at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, O’Neill will look to duplicate that success with Goldencents.
The three-year-old colt rallied to pull away from Flashback and Super Ninety Nine at Santa Anita Saturday, earning a trip to the Kentucky Derby and a handsome $450,000 payday. With O’Neill’s magic touch and the experience of jockey Kevin Krigger with a big win under his belt, Goldencents looks like an early favorite to contend for first place at Churchill Downs in May.
Besting a horse like Flashback—heavily favored and trained by Bob Baffert—gives plenty of reason to be excited about this horse going forward. With the Kentucky Derby closing in, a tremendous showing at Santa Anita is a very good sign.
Baffert’s Flashback and Super Ninety Nine missed out on big points by falling behind Goldencents, however. Flashback sits at No. 7 in the Kentucky Derby points standings (70), while Super Ninety Nine’s third-place finish leaves the horse ranked 16th with 30 points.
Both horses ran well enough to secure a top-three finish and help their cause leading up to the Kentucky Derby, but Goldencents’ comeback victory had to be a gut-wrenching turn for Baffert.
Still, both horses showed enough Saturday to make their Kentucky Derby prospects intriguing. Flashback should still be considered a contender, though the apparent lack of stamina that allowed Goldencents’ late surge is a little troubling, especially with the Kentucky Derby now less than a month away.
Paul Aguirre’s Tiz a Minister also improved its chances of a successful finish at Churchill Downs after securing a fourth-place finish at Santa Anita. With finishes in first, second, third and fourth in 2013, Tiz a Minister continued its impressive year behind Goldencents, Flashback and Super Ninety Nine.
There’s no guarantee Tiz a Minister will secure a trip to Churchill Downs, though. A first- or second-place finish may have been enough to do so, but the Kentucky Debry’s new points system will make it difficult at this point in the year.
According to owner Stephen A. Young, earning enough points is the main focus right now for Tiz a Minister (as quoted by Aram Tolegian of the Press-Telegram):
"We don't have any derby dream yet. We've got to get enough points to get in the derby before we can have a derby dream. Of course, it's in the back of our minds."
Santa Anita was a good test for each of the Run for the Roses hopefuls, but Goldencents passed at the top of his class with flying colors. Many questions still remain with the Kentucky Derby quickly approaching, though.
Twenty starting spots are up for grabs, and the horses that failed to win Saturday now face an even steeper uphill battle to secure one. While it’s a long season, every owner, trainer and jockey wants a shot at Churchill Downs in May.