V.I.'s Krigger in Derby spotlight

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ST. THOMAS ­- As far back as he can remember, Kevin Krigger had aspirations of becoming a professional jockey.

In his youth on St. Croix, Krigger was eager to challenge anyone - a family member, friend, or just a passerby - to a horse race.

"I've always wanted to be a jockey," said Krigger. "I grew up on the outside road. Everyone who came through the valley on horses had to pass me. So every time I would see someone passing by on a horse, that was my opportunity to offer them a match race."

As the regular jockey riding Kentucky Derby hot prospect Goldencents, Krigger, 29, has come a long way from his days on St. Croix. A win at the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday would ensure Krigger and Goldencents a spot in the derby and would mark Krigger's first Grade 1 victory.

"I've had my share of good horses in my life. He is the best I've ever ridden," Krigger said.

Goldencents is trained by Doug O'Neill and owned by W. C. Racing, Dave Kenney and RAP Racing - which is the stable of University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. The 3-year-old bay colt has earned $800,000 and has three wins in five starts.

In last month's San Felipe Derby, Goldencents finished a disappointing fourth place after being baited into a speed duel with Flashback and fading in the final furlong to lose by 2¼ lengths.

"Once Flashback challenged us at the three-quarter pole, it turned the race into practically a match race between the two of them," Krigger said. "That's the reason why Flashback ran second and I ran fourth. We both ran at a suicidal pace."

Since then, O'Neill has been working to relax Goldencents, teaching him not to let his nerves force him to run too hard early in a race.

"They kind of changed tactics as far as morning workouts. He's relaxed a lot since then," said Krigger, who hasn't ridden Goldencents since the San Felipe Derby. "We're looking for a much better-paced scenario in the Santa Anita Derby."

Goldencents has 29 points in the Kentucky Derby qualifying system, and Krigger must finish in either first or second place to make it to Churchhill Downs on May 4.

Krigger also has a chance to make history on Saturday as the first black jockey to win the Santa Anita Derby, a distinction that he said he would consider "a very prestigious part of history that we would be able to make."

Regardless whether he makes history on Saturday, Krigger said he is very fortunate to have so much support from the Virgin Islands. Krigger recalled a particular instance in 2003 as his proudest moment.

"One day that really stood out for me in the Virgin Islands was the first time when I went to St. Thomas. I walked in the pony parlor over there, and for the first time in my life, I had a standing ovation," he said. "It felt really good. I've never walked into a place and felt as appreciated as that day."

As someone whose first memories of riding horses include "riding in the back yard, jumping off of old cars that weren't working," Krigger, who now lives in California with his wife and children, regards his Virgin Islands status as a source of pride.

"I'll be the first Virgin Islander that makes it to the Kentucky Derby if I do so," he said. "I'll keep my fingers crossed and keep praying."

Krigger, a graduate of St. Croix Central High School, has not been able to return to St. Croix since 2011 because of his strenuous training regimen, but he said he vividly remembers the times he competed in the St. Croix donkey races, especially when he crashed the cart.

Krigger now trains six days a week, riding horses for hours on end to fine-tune his technique.

Krigger said he does not have to weight train, because "horse racing is practically weight training for jockeys" who have to balance themselves every day on speeding animals that weight thousands of pounds.

As the Santa Anita Derby and its $750,000 purse swiftly approach, Krigger is confident in his ability to come out on top, and if Goldencents is as good as many think he is, then "he's going to win it on Saturday." Kevin Krigger

Height: 5-foot-6

Weight: 115 pounds

2013 Statistics

Starts: 133

Firsts: 16

Seconds: 18

Thirds: 14

Rank: 86/983 by Earnings

Career Statistics (Since 2001)

Starts: 6,665

Firsts: 928

Seconds: 968

Thirds: 924 Santa Anita Derby on TV

Purse: $750,000 (G1)

1 1/8 miles

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, Calif.

Saturday, 6 p.m., NBC Sports Network

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