Doug O’Neill is back in Baltimore, this year to spoil a Triple Crown instead of take the next step toward winning one.
A year after bringing I’ll Have Another to Baltimore just two days after winning the Kentucky Derby, then frantically absorbing as much of Baltimore as he and his crew could before winning the race, the Southern California trainer arrived Sunday to join this year's entry, Goldencents.
The mood around the same Barn D stalls he occupied last year was more workmanlike Monday, even after O’Neill watched the disappointing 17th-place Derby finisher roar down the Pimlico stretch under jockey Kevin Krigger.
O'Neill said it felt nice to be the hunted last year, and indeed his large group of assistants and grooms never seemed to feel the weight of that pressure. This year, they carry the burden of having watched their horse run so differently than they felt he would.
On Monday a groom listened to reggae on his phone, and O’Neill’s crew otherwise worked quietly.
O’Neill said he was pleased with what he saw after letting assistant Jack Sisterson handle the colt’s training all last week.
“Coming down the lane, Goldencents was so comfortable and was reaching out great,” he said. “I just loved what I saw today.”
O’Neill and his crew have decided not to change their training plan for Goldencents, despite his inability to keep up with the Derby field after going out quickly with a fast pace. He won’t work, because O’Neill thinks the colt gets enough exercise toward the end of his gallops.
“He trains as hard as a lot of horses work,” O’Neill said.
He said the same thing about I’ll Have Another last year.
“This business is full of a lot more losses than it is wins,” O’Neill said. “That’s why we celebrate the wins and re-energize a bit.
“But it still gives me goosebumps just to think of it. It’s an amazing feeling.”
As with last year, O’Neill brings a relatively unknown rider to Baltimore for the first time. Krigger, a 29-year-old from the Virgin Islands, has just emerged as a prominent rider in Southern California. He would be the first black jockey to win the Preakness since 1898.
He said the media has focused on that angle more than he has, but also acknowledged a responsibility to serve as a role model for young would-be jockeys. His mother gives him updates on what people back home are saying, and often reads him comments from his Facebook page.
“I guess some of them say I’m an inspiration,” Krigger said. “But they inspire me to continue to do good. They’re my inspiration right now.”
Krigger says he tries to nod at children who yell for him on the way to the paddock, the way a few jockeys did when he was younger.
O’Neill plans to watch film of past Preakness races with Krigger, as he did last year with Mario Gutierrez.
“You can never watch these races enough times,” Krigger said. “Watching them with Doug, it can just open me up to his mindset and I’m able to see what he sees.”
O'Neill said Monday that Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, who owns a five percent share of Goldencents, was not planning on attending the Preakness but that his son, recently-hired Minnesota coach Richard, may be here.
Vyjack opts out
Vyjack, the last horse to beat Preakness favorite Orb, will not run at Pimlico.
The 18th-place finisher at the Kentucky Derby had been under consideration to run back in the Preakness, but trainer Rudy Rodriguez informed track officials Monday that he would not bring the gelding.
Vyjack broke his maiden at Aqueduct on Nov. 10; Orb, the Derby winner, was fourth and did not break his maiden until two weeks later but has not lost since.
Vyjack won the Gotham and was a close third in the Wood, but acted up in Kentucky and never jumped into the race.
Baffert still deciding
Baffert pulled the lightly raced colt from Derby contention, saying he’d suffered a bruise in his hind foot in April. He now appears to be healthy.
“He worked good enough to run,” Baffert said. “I think today we caught up for the little time that we lost.”
But Baffert still was not ready to commit.
“I have to see how he comes out of it,” he said. “He went very, very well. That’s a call I have to make.”