You could see his smile from the eighth pole to the wire. It was business as usual for Leandro Mora, Doug O’Neill’s assistant trainer, but Mora and everyone connected to Team O’Neill were still ecstatic the morning after I’ll Have Another’s brilliant victory in the Kentucky Derby.
“It was too bad I couldn’t go,” said Mora. “I was supposed to go yesterday, but I couldn’t because we had horses running here and we have to take care of business. But that’s alright, because it’s still the same great feeling. Doug called me after the Derby to give me some congrats. So now we’re just enjoying it. I spoke to the boys this morning and he looks fine. I guess they were worried about him getting too hot after the race. It took a long time with the ceremonies and things like that, but they gave him a bath right there on the track and everything was cool.”
I’ll Have Another, whose base of operations has been at Betfair Hollywood Park, is now the toast of California. “This is such a great little horse. He hasn’t done anything wrong for us. We’re going to leave a crew with him and he’s going to stay there. We took seven or eight other horses with him, but they’re coming back. We’ll probably give him a couple of days to settle down and relax and then go to Baltimore (Pimlico) right after that. The plans haven’t been finalized yet.
“I’m so happy for Mario (Gutierrez), he’s such a cool kid. Before the wire, he was riding like it was just another race. I think I was more nervous than he was. We’re looking forward to the next one.”
Kevin Krigger is a journeyman in every sense of the word.
The 28-year-old rider from St. Croix, US Virgin Islands arrived in the U.S. in June of 2001 and rode his first horse two months later at Thistledown in Ohio.
“I always liked to keep busy. When I was a teenager in St. Croix I would get to ride every so often,’’ he said. “The track at St. Croix would run every other weekend and when they weren’t running there, I would take a boat to ride at St. Thomas, which was on a nearby island.”
He was a hard worker from the start, riding days at Thistledown and nights at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia. After compiling more than 50 victories between the two tracks as an apprentice, Krigger was toying with the idea of moving to Kentucky when he was talked out of it by former jockey agent turned trainer Wayne McDonnell, who had Bay Area connections.
Northern California agent Boone McCanna, who had Dennis Carr at the time, was looking to replace an injured rider and McDonnell recommended Krigger. McCanna took the suggestion and convinced the bug boy to travel west. In his first month at Golden Gate, Krigger won 12 races, one of them for powerhouse trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
When Golden Gate ended, Krigger began a road trip that would find him criss-crossing the country numerous times. In fact, over the next 10 years Krigger competed at a jaw-dropping 27 different tracks.
“Is it that many already?,” asked the always smiling reinsman. It was, but the road show was about to cease in 2011.
“Last year was the year I’ve been waiting on. The agent I had up north last year was the same agent I had as an apprentice (McCanna). I’d always wanted to go back up there with him, and finally he called me last year and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It was something I’d been waiting on for a long time.”
“I was doing really well at Golden Gate (42 victories between Oct. 20-Dec.18), but when I got a call from Tom Knust asking me to come down to Southern California, I knew I had to try it again.
“I had ridden briefly at Santa Anita when I had the bug and I was happy to have Tony Matos as my agent. I told myself that when I got another good agent, that’s when I would come back.”
Krigger had a career year in 2011, winning 165 races and finishing in the money 52% of the time. He began this year on a strong note, winning 32 races through the beginning of May and cracking the top 10 at Santa Anita.
“I’m hoping to stay on this circuit. I’ve always wanted to be here. I wasn’t surprised I did so well at Santa Anita because I’ve always totally believed in myself. From the time I had the bug, I’ve always felt I was a great rider and I’ve always ridden like a great rider. I’ve heard a lot of people say I’m getting better, and time does make you better, I can’t deny that.”
“Things are picking up and I’m getting more horses from Northern California. I’m happy with my business from up there and business down here. I get up every day and work hard, so that’s what I expect. We’re hoping to have a good meeting here and we think Del Mar will be another key meeting for us.”
Most of Krigger’s family, including his mother and sister, are still in St. Croix,. “I’m glad I got to spend a lot of time with them a few years ago,” said Krigger, “because my business is good and I haven’t had a chance to get back there recently.”
With the 138th Kentucky Derby still fresh on everyone’s mind, it was fitting to ask Krigger about one day competing in America’s biggest race.
“It’s every rider’s dream to ride in the Kentucky Derby and I’m just patiently waiting for my time,’’ he said. “I’m pretty sure when it comes, it will be with a good horse. I don’t just want to go there to ride, I want to go to win.”
CLOSING STRIDES—Ivan Puhich, longtime agent and currently representing Mario Gutierrez, was surprisingly low-key about the monumental victory. “I just watched the race home alone. I’ve been around too long to get excited,’’ said Puhich. “I never yelled. I quit yelling when I was around 15 years old.”………*Mora* also reported that Siempre Mio, who now boasts Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol as part owners, is doing perfect and should run soon. Whether the two Los Angeles Laker stars will be able to see their recent acquisition in action depends on how long the team is alive in the National Basketball Association playoffs.
Rail Trip, winner of the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup, is back in the barn of Ron Ellis following a less-than-successful trip to New York. Ellis reports that the horse is doing well and was getting ready, but had “nothing planned” for the immediate future. “Hopefully he’ll be ready to run later in the meeting.”………Morning Line, winner of the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap in his 2012 debut, returned in good shape. “He came back fine and everything looks good,” said trainer John Shirreffs. Morning line is scheduled to appear next in the $150,000 Californian June 2nd, and after that the Grade 1 $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup July 7………Chilean bred Amani, 11 for 12 in South America, recently started her conditioning program for Neil Drysdale. The 4-year-old filly, who has banked more than $344,000 in South America, breezed 3 furlongs a few days ago. Though Drysdale said she was “months away” from a race, she’s one to keep an eye on…….Dynamic Host, winner of the Grade 3 Tokyo City Stakes in his last start, is considered definite for next Sunday’s $70,000 Round Table Stakes at 1 1-2 miles on turf, according to trainer Art Sherman. The Dynaformer gelding has been a profitable claim since being taken for $40,000 last summer at Del Mar……*Watson, Pegram*, et al’s Drill is a possible starter for Bob Baffert in Saturday’s $100,000 Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes at 7 furlongs. The son of Lawyer Ron has started twice at that distance, winning the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and finishing second in the Grade 2 San Vicente.
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