After dueling and weakening to fourth in the March 9 San Felipe, Goldencents was overlooked entering Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. But that proved to be a mistake as the three-year-old colt displayed the willingness to relax during the early stages, made his move to the lead entering the stretch drive and comfortably held the favored Flashback safe to the wire.
The 1 1/4-length victory guarantees Goldencents a spot in the Kentucky Derby field as he increased his point total to 129 in the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring system. He completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48 3/5.
Owned in partnership by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, who advanced to Monday's national championship game when defeating Wichita St. on Saturday, Goldencents provided trainer Doug O'Neill with his second straight Santa Anita Derby following last year's success with I'll Have Another, who went on to post a 19-1 upset at Churchill Downs.
The bay son of Into Mischief was ridden by Kevin Krigger, who is now scheduled to make his Kentucky Derby debut. O'Neill employed a similar strategy last year, utilizing the services of the relatively unknown Mario Gutierrez aboard I'll Have Another.
"(Give) credit to Kevin (Krigger). He didn't panic early when the pace was a little bit hot the first quarter, and was able to just chill and save horse," O'Neill said. "Credit to Kevin and the horse. They're a great team."
Super Ninety Nine flashed speed at the break, showing the way into the first turn on a short lead as Krigger took a keen hold on Goldencents in second. The opening quarter-mile went in a quick :22 3/5, but Super Ninety Nine was able to slow it down entering the backstretch, reaching the half-mile mark in :46 2/5 with a half-length advantage, and continued to lead by the same margin as he reached the three-quarters mark in 1:10 2/5.
Unlike previous starts, Goldencents was not headstrong and waited for his cue to pounce. Flashback, who finished second in the San Felipe after battling on the lead with Goldencents, was a couple of lengths back stalking the early pace and advanced into contention on the far turn, one-length behind Goldencents with three furlongs remaining.
Goldencents stormed into the lead as Super Ninety Nine gave way at the top of the stretch and the stage appeared set for a two-horse race to the wire. But Flashback wasn't gaining on Goldencents, who passed the mile mark in 1:35 3/5, and the winner wasn't seriously threatened in the final furlong.
"I did (think he had enough left when Flashback came to him in the stretch), but I think every trainer has a false sense of hope every time you run one, but I felt like we had a lot of horse left. This time it worked out perfect," O'Neill said.
"We were all in a good position turning for home," said Bob Baffert, trainer of Flashback. "When we got to the outside the other horse (Goldencents) just quickened on him. The winner ran a really good race. They ran pretty fast times.
"Flashback, he ran a good race. Goldencents, he's a good horse. He's going to be really tough."
O'Neill and his team had worked on getting Goldencents to relax since the San Felipe.
"I think it did (help, the change in training strategy to try and slow his works down). I think it saved some more energy for the afternoon," O'Neill explained. "I was getting caught up into he was just a fast horse. It is fun to watch a horse work (fast), but you do worry it saps some of their energy for the afternoon, so we just tried to stay away from that. Whether that has anything to do with it or not, it worked today."
Sent off the 6-1 fourth choice among eight rivals in the $750,750 Santa Anita Derby, Goldencents paid $15, $5.40 and $3.40 to his supporters.
Flashback, the overwhelming even-money choice, wound up 8 1/2 lengths clear of third. Super Ninety Nine came next and was followed by Tiz a Minister, Power Broker, Storm Fighter, Summer Exclusive and Dirty Swagg. San Felipe winner Hear the Ghost was scratched earlier in the week due to an injury.
Goldencents has now earned $1,250,000 from a 6-4-1-0 career mark. After winning his career debut at Del Mar, the colt shipped to New York and finished a commendable second to eventual two-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. His connections elected to skip the Breeders' Cup and Goldencents proceeded to record his first stakes win in the November 17 Delta Jackpot Juvenile, scoring by 1 3/4 length in the lucrative event. He opened 2013 with a 1 1/2-length victory in the January 5 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.
Bred in Kentucky by Rosecrest Farm and Karyn Pirrello, Goldencents brought $5,500 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall yearling before selling for $62,000 when going through the ring as the penultimate horse in this year's OBS June sale. He is out of the winning Banker's Gold mare Golden Works, who is herself a daughter of multiple stakes queen Body Works.
Canadian champion and 1983 Kentucky Derby winner Sunny's Halo is also part of the female family.
O'Neill was asked when Goldencents will ship to Churchill Downs.
"I don't know. We've got to huddle up. As soon as the alcohol wears off, we'll figure it all out," the trainer said.