Doug O'Neill (center, arms extended) and Dennis O'Neill (left) have another top Kentucky Derby hopeful in 2013 with Goldencents. The O'Neills won the 2012 Derby with I'll Have Another. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
The O’Neill brothers may be at it again.
The combination of Dennis’ keen eye for a horse and Doug’s proven training ability allowed them to win the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) last year with I’ll Have Another. And now, they may have another top contender for the Triple Crown series in Goldencents, who looks to prove his worthiness in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) on Saturday at Santa Anita Park.
“We think he’s a Derby horse,” Doug said. “And if he is, he should be in for a major part of it on Saturday.”
DOUG O'NEILL WITH I'LL HAVE ANOTHER
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
The O’Neill’s harbored no Derby dreams when Goldencents first arrived. The son of Into Mischief, who had much to prove as a sire, had sold for a relatively meager $5,500 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale in 2011. Dennis thought the colt would fetch between $40,000 and $50,000 when he was sold as a 2-year-old in training in Ocala, Fla., the following June.
He offered as much as $55,000 only to learn that he would have to do more because a bid of $57,000 from the back of the room had not initially been spotted. Dennis hesitated due to the pedigree, but then he remembered how impressive the youngster was — on the track and off.
“He had a beautiful way of going, one of those strides that keeps repeating, over and over,” Dennis said.
The physical inspection had gone equally well.
“I went to the barn and he was a gorgeous horse,” he said. “And he’s matured since then.”
O’Neill went higher than he had planned in making a winning bid of $62,000 and has not looked back. Goldencents owns three victories in four starts for earnings of $782,000. The lone blemish came in the form of a runner-up finish to eventual 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park last October.
Goldencents rebounded to take the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (G3) in November and launched his 3-year-old campaign with an auspicious victory in the one-mile Sham Stakes (G3) on Jan. 5 at Santa Anita on behalf of owners Glenn Sorgenstein, Josh Kaplan, Dave Kenney and University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.
Pitino, after hearing he could obtain an interest in the horse if the offer was right, could not keep his checkbook in his pocket after hearing the buzz at the barn and watching Goldencents breeze one morning last July at Del Mar.
“He was kind of gaga about him, and he wrote a check on the spot,” Dennis said.
Doug said of Pitino’s interest in Thoroughbred racing: “He loves the game. He knows a lot about the business, from the handicapping to the breeding end to different surfaces and distances. He doesn’t have a lot of time for the game, but he does treat it as a business. I am real honored to be part of something he’s part of.”
Photo courtesy of Benoit & Associates
Goldencents, with regular rider Kevin Krigger aboard, will be part of a field of eight in the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) that also includes Flashback, a highly regarded colt from the outfit of 3-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert. Goldencents braced for that stiff challenge by breezing six furlongs in 1:11 3/5 seconds last Saturday at Santa Anita.
Doug noted that Goldencents possesses more natural speed than I’ll Have Another and has the mental focus to succeed.
“He brings it to the gym every day,” he said.
Relive the 2012 Triple Crown run with the O'Neill brothers and I'll Have Another