Louisville, KY - At 5:00am on the west coast, jockey Kevin Krigger's day is about to shift from family responsibilities to working out horses at picturesque Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.
However, this week Kevin switches time-zones to the east coast as he prepares for the ride of his life in his first Kentucky Derby on top of the Doug O'Neill trained colt Goldencents; it's an opportunity that he is looking forward to.
Krigger began riding horses as a small child in his native St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands which has seen some political unrest over the years, but he recalls racing against other kids on horses for fun. As he grew he would walk to the race track on St. Croix to ride and gain experience. Under Jockey Julio Felix, who now rides at Hawthorne outside of Chicago, Krigger made his way to the Cleveland area in 2001 and officially began his career at Thistledown Race Track at 17. Krigger credits Felix for being the spark that lit the tinder helping him get started as an apprentice jockey and is someone he admires as a fellow rider.
While at Thistledown Krigger was capable of honing his skills. He had many mounts and when I asked him if there was any one memory that stood out while riding in the Cleveland area he enthusiastically told me about a horse named Lac Ouiloose. Lac Ouiloose, an Ohio bred, was owned by Nancy Lavrich. The filly was not responsive to direction. The plan was to ship Lac Ouiloose back to the farm as it was thought that she could not be trained. Krigger began working with the horse and trainer and in October 2001 the two of them won a 6 furlong Maiden Special Weight race their first time out. Nearly a month later Krigger rode Lac Ouiloose in an Allowance race taking second and then again won another Allowance race on board Lac Ouiloose in November 17 2001. That was the last time Krigger would ride Lac Ouiloose as he was quickly receiving praise from other trainers who wanted to use him. Gary Johnson, a former Thistledown trainer was one of those trainers that sought our Kevin's riding capabilities. He claims that Kevin's success has come from his stringent work ethic and healthy lifestyle. Johnson says, "Kevin doesn't give up; he simply does not quit." Johnson is extremely proud of Kevin's accomplishments and knew that Thistledown had someone special with Kevin Krigger and knew he would be moving toward greater quests as did Lac Ouiloose who went on to win many more races. Krigger realized that riding horses and being a jockey was his destiny. He would split days at Thistledown and take mounts at Mountaineer Park in the evening before finally heading to the West Coast where he went on to the next leg of his career at Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco. Naturally, many trainers wanted to work with him there. They believed in Kevin's abilities.
Today Kevin finds himself in the middle of pursing the virtues of his first Triple Crown race. He first rode Goldencents in a 5-1/2 furlong race at Del Mar, winning in September of last year. He then finished second behind Shanghai Bobby in the Champaign Grade 1 at Belmont in October 2012 before winning his next two races, The Delta Jackpot G3 and the Sham G3. In March 2013 Krigger fell short of hitting the board in the San Felipe Stakes G2 at Santa Anita behind Hear the Ghost, Flashback and Tizaminister. When questioned about his run in the San Felipe Kevin stated, "It was challenging and I found myself boxed in, pressed. It can happen, unfortunately anything can happen." His run in the Santa Anita Derby proved differently as he won by 1-1/4 lengths. I questioned him about his run coming into the finish and whether or not he felt Goldencents had more to give. The Kentucky Derby will be the longest distance race these competing horses have yet to endure and Kevin claimed, "He was in stride and could have gone further, there was no need to push him." The win the Santa Anita was the cherry on top as the day before that race he won four races in a row; three of those were with Trainer Doug O'Neill.
Krigger takes nothing for granted. He is highly appreciative of the opportunities O'Neill has given to him as well as the owners of Goldencents who believe in him. One of those owners, Louisville Basketball Coach Rick Pitino, is currently on a major lucky streak after his horse won the Santa Anita Derby and his basketball team advanced to the final round of the NCAA Men's Tournament on the same day. Trainer O'Neill seems to be on a lucky streak too. Last year his colt "I'll Have Another" owned by Reddam Racing won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but was scratched prior to the Belmont due to tendonitis. I asked Krigger what he thought of the scrutiny O'Neill fell under leading up to the 2012 Belmont after O'Neill was ordered to serve a suspension for a violation that occurred in California a few years earlier. He said, "Doug's a cool guy, he has always been straight with me." Once again Doug O'Neill's stable