Thursday, June 13, 2013

Around Town: A great way to start a morning

Around Town: A great way to start a morning

“If you come here at 6:30 every morning, after you leave, you will always have a good day.”

I was chatting with a young jockey named Kevin Krigger. We were seated in the stands at Clocker's Corner in Santa Anita Park. Clocker's is one of our region's undiscovered gems. Good coffee. Great breakfast menu. Inexpensive.

The morning haze had lifted. Before us stretched the verdant slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains. Thoroughbred race horses exercised a few yards away from us. The customers were a mix of trainers, owners, jockeys and hangers-on like me. There were a couple of dogs, happy to accompany their owners. The surroundings were stunning.

Kevin pointed to the east. “At 6:30 a.m., the sun comes up right over there. If you come here every morning, even if you stay for five minutes, just for a cup of coffee, the rest of your day will be beautiful.”

Kevin Krigger is a young man with an old soul.

One of the very few African American jockeys, Krigger came to the U.S. from the Virgin Islands at the age of 18. In the past decade he has worked his way up through the ranks.

Riding is Krigger's passion.

“I always wanted to be a jockey,” says Krigger. “When I was young, I didn't know that jockeys could get paid. I thought they did it as a hobby.”

In two weeks, on Saturday, May 4, Krigger will race a horse named Goldencents in the Kentucky Derby.

Goldencents, a 3-year-old, beat the odds to win the Santa Anita Derby two weeks ago, thereby securing a place atChurchill Downs. During our talk, Krigger repeatedly expressed his gratitude to Goldencents' trainer, Doug O'Neill. Last year, another O'Neill horse, “I'll Have Another,” won both the 2012 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. This year, O'Neill is sticking with Krigger.

“I thank Doug O'Neill because he never decreased his faith in me,” says Krigger.

From his first ride, Krigger knew that Goldencents was special. “I knew he was destined for the Derby,” he said.

As soon as he legged up onto the horse, he saw that Goldencents had class.

“I could tell from his walk,” he explains. “It was as if Goldencents was saying, ‘I'm the boss! ‘This is MY track.'”

And now, every morning, rain or shine, Krigger stops by Santa Anita and heads to the stall to say hello to Goldencents. Every morning, the horse waits for Krigger to pet him, rub his mane and face, and give him a treat.

Even if Krigger is scheduled to go across town to another track or meeting, he begins his day at Santa Anita, at 6:30 a.m., with a visit to Goldencents.

“There's no reason not to see him every day,” says Krigger. “We share a lot of firsts together, Goldencents and me. Our first Grade 1 Thoroughbred Stakes win. Our first Santa Anita Derby win.... Shucks, I wish he was sleeping in my back yard!”

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