It was 8:37 on a cool Monday morning at Pimlico when Goldencents, with jockey Kevin Krigger aboard, walked onto the track to begin his training.
Two other horses were on the track, and a few others joined them as Goldencents was jogging to the backstretch before starting to gallop. Three people were on the apron as Goldencents was lengthening his stride on his run down the stretch.
Trainer Doug O’Neill was watching from above, standing on the press-box ledge with a handful of reporters and photographers.
What a difference a year makes for O’Neill.
Last year, he came to the Preakness with I’ll Have Another, the Kentucky Derby winner. When he went to the track to train, media flocked.
Before Monday, the last time O’Neill saw a horse run down the Pimlico stretch was when a Preakness record crowd of 121,309 watched I’ll Have Another storm past Bodemeister to win by a neck.
O’Neill said he still watches the replays.
“All the time,’’ he said. “All the time. This business is definitely full of a lot more losses than wins. You celebrate all the wins, and it re-energizes you, not that we’re dull by any means, but the thought of when I’ll Have Another was charging down the stretch last year, it still gives me goose bumps.’’
Like I’ll Have Another, Goldencents came into the Kentucky Derby off a victory in the Santa Anita Derby. But their races at Churchill Downs couldn’t have been more different.
Goldencents pressed a fast pace set by Palace Malice before fading, finishing 17th, 49 ½ lengths behind winner Orb.
To O’Neill and Krigger, the race simply is a throw-out, and Goldencents deserves the chance to rebound in the Preakness.
“You’re not going to have a 19-horse field,’’ O’Neill said. “So you just hope for a better set-up, and I think Mother Nature wasn’t real kind either, where the track was kind of sticky and gooey, so we’re happy to bring him over here to Baltimore and try it again over here. …
“He looks great. He came out of it in great shape. He settled in great here. He’s eating good. Coat looks great.’’
Goldencents, who arrived at Pimlico early last Tuesday, went to the track Thursday for the first time. Krigger shipped from Kentucky with the colt.
“The horse is training good from the first day he came back to the track and he jogged,’’ Krigger said “The second day, he came back and he just took off in a happy spirit started giving me a little buck, showing me that his energy level is there.
“And for me, just being on him and getting on him every day, making sure he’s doing everything the way he should be doing it is a thrill for me. And to have the opportunity to be here preparing him for the (Preakness) and working with Doug and those guys hands-on is something new for me. So as far as like shipping with the horse, I’m enjoying myself, and the horse himself, he’s enjoying himself. And every day, he trains like he’s ready to run a better race than the Derby.’’
Krigger said that in the early running in the Derby, he was confident that Goldencents was in position to win.
“When we got to the three-eighths pole, the race changed for him completely,’’ Krigger said. “He went from being comfortable to just not giving me the effort he usually puts out, and when we got to the five-sixteenths pole, he just started regressing more. For whatever reason it was, I couldn’t really pinpoint anything wrong with him or anything like that. But at that point, we’re already back past 10th, and I just decided instead of asking him and causing him to struggle in the sloppy track and making it an unsafe scenario for him, I just protected him and wrapped up on him and brought him home for us in good shape.’’
Whether the track condition caused the subpar performance, Krigger wouldn’t say.
“I know he wasn’t there underneath me that day, whatever the surface, whatever the cause would have been, but it was one of those races where we kind of drew up a mystery race, a mystery sign in all of our heads, and now we’re just back to the drawing board,’’ he said.
As of Monday morning, Goldencents was the only Preakness horse on the grounds. Orb, who worked Monday at Belmont Park, was scheduled to arrive by van in late afternoon.
Last year, Team O’Neill ran in the Preakness 5K. This year, because O’Neill didn’t arrive until Sunday night, the team didn’t run in the race.
Last year, O’Neill threw out the first pitch at an Orioles game. This year, the Orioles treated team members to a suite at a game, but first pitches are restricted to winning Derby trainers.
Also, Krigger, assistant trainer Jack Sisterson, masseur Tyler Cerin and groom Benjamin Perez attended the Phil Vassar “Get You’re your Preak On’’ concert at the inner harbor and were asked on stage.
In a few hours, when Orb arrives, media undoubtedly will be flocking. Shug McGaughey and his crew will become the focus.
Team O’Neill will slip quietly into the background on the Pimlico backstretch.
In a mile-and-three-sixteenth run Saturday, Goldencents will have his chance to shift the Triple Crown storyline.