HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Kevin Krigger made a victorious riding return to Gulfstream Park in Friday’s first race, alternating between the whip and a strong hand ride while coaxing Scat Daddy’s Breeze to come back after being headed in the stretch to win a photo finish by a nose.
The victory in the $12,500 maiden claiming race gave the 30-year-old native of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands renewed hope for the future after his riding career took an unexpected dip early this year.
A year ago, Krigger was a featured player on Thoroughbred racing’s center stage, preparing for the ride of his lifetime aboard Goldencents in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. After guiding Goldencents to victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Krigger was poised for an attempt to make history by becoming the first African American jockey to ride the winner of the Kentucky Derby since 1902.
The Doug O’Neill-trained Goldencents showed some early speed before fading badly and finishing 17th, but Krigger still felt honored to be part of the first leg of the Triple Crown for the first time.
“Getting to watch everything unfold for the Kentucky Derby was such a great experience for me. I had never been at Churchill Downs or seen the Kentucky Derby,” Krigger said. “I wouldn’t trade my first time, even though I finished way behind, for anything in the world. I have to thank (O’Neill’s) whole team for the experience. Even though at the end I wasn’t riding for him, I got the opportunity to ride some big races. If it weren’t for those guys, I would never have gotten the opportunity. Just to ride a horse like Goldencents was an extreme pleasure for me.”
Krigger never won again aboard Goldencents, aboard whom he finished fifth in the Preakness (G1) and second in both the Bing Crosby (G1) and the Pat O’Brien (G2) before losing the mount aboard the eventual Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner. Although he had experienced considerable success on the Southern California circuit during the previous year, his business slowed to a near stop early this year.
“It was extremely disappointing, I can’t deny that. It was stressful; it was disappointing; it was confusing; I couldn’t understand how it was possible that I ended up on the bottom shelf again,” said the well-traveled Krigger, who has ridden 955 winners while riding in Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida and Northern California.
Krigger was well aware of the ups and downs that a jockey can experience and maintained confidence in his ability to ride Thoroughbreds.
“The best thing is that I know the game. I just kept my frame of mind,” Krigger said. “I went back to the Virgin Islands for a few weeks and refreshed my mind and my soul and my body.”
Right at the time when Krigger was ready to resume his career in the U.S. he received a call from trainer Rasharn Creque, a fellow native of the U.S. Virgin Islands who had just been hired to train Frank Calabrese’s successful stable in South Florida.
“I didn’t have to think twice. We were a very high-percentage team in the Virgin Islands,” Krigger said. “He’s one of the best trainers, if not the best, to come from the Virgin Islands. I think he’s as good as anyone if given the opportunity like this one. I’m here to help him and Mr. Calabrese as much as I can.”
Krigger got off to a strong start for Creque and Calabrese Friday at Gulfstream with his ride aboard Scat Daddy’s Dream, who set the pace before being headed in mid-stretch by Hot Cotton and jockey Santiago Gonzalez.
“When he went by me, I didn’t feel like my filly was giving me her best stride. I just had to figure out how to get the stride I was looking for. I went to the whip, but it wasn’t working,” Krigger said. “So I said, ‘The whip isn’t going to get me by.’ So I picked her back up and the last 1/16th I kept pushing her.”
As much as he looks back at his Kentucky Derby experience with fondness, Krigger appreciated the opportunity to visit the winner’s circle again at Gulfstream.
“I want to thank Mr. Calabrese. He gave my great friend from the Virgin Islands a heck of an opportunity,” he added. “I wake up and thank God to be in the position I’m in right now, after having such a great year last year and having such a dead beginning this year.”