By Gary Montgomery
Kevin Krigger knew as far back as he could remember that the Sport of Kings was his destiny. At the age of 5, Kevin took a ride on a neighbor’s horse and from that moment on the saddle became his home. At age 10 Kevin began ridding competitively and as they say the rest is history.
This weekend 29-year-old Krigger is about to experience his lifelong dream of riding in the Kentucky Derby.
Growing up in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, Krigger quickly became one of the top young jockeys on the Caribbean racing circuit.
Firmly seated at the pinnacle of success in his native Virgin Islands, Krigger still longed for the bigger prize. He wanted to race in the biggest event his sport had to offer. Krigger wanted to race in the Kentucky Derby but he knew it was an impossible goal to achieve while racing exclusively in his home country.
Unlike most, Kevin would not be content as a big fish in a small pond, his dream was to swim in the largest ocean out there and nothing would deter him from that dream.
So, in 2001, fueled by his aspirations eighteen-year-old Kevin Krigger packed up and headed to the states, taking the first rung on a tall ladder to his dream.
Krigger landed in Ohio and raced there for several years. Kevin then moved west and picked up at Golden Gate and Emerald Downs in Northern California. While in Ohio, Krigger met and became friends with fellow jockey Julio Felix who become a friend, mentor and confidant all in one. After posting impressive winning percentages at both stops, Krigger decided to move to Southern California.
Since arriving in the Southland, Kevin has become well known throughout the Southern California racing community.
As the self proclaimed number one fan, Robin Henderson will quickly attest; “I come to all of Kevin’s races. He is an exceptional Jockey and an even better person. He takes a picture with me after every race that he wins. I am without question his number one fan.” Henderson can nearly always be found just above the winners circle cheering for Krigger.
Krigger rode Goldencents to a win in Santa Anita Derby on April 6, a huge points win on their way to qualifying for the 139th running of the Derby and making him the first jockey of African descent to win that race in its 76 year history.
When Krigger and Goldencent exit the starting gate in Louisville on Saturday, Krigger will be the first ever jockey from the Virgin Islands to run in the Derby. If he wins, he will be the first jockey of African descent to win the Kentucky Derby in more than 111 years.
The plight of the Black jockey has been well documented. Beginning with its first running in 1874, 15 of the first 28 races were won by Black jockeys. The most prolific of those pioneers was Isaac Burns Murphy. Murphy, who won the Derby three times between 1884 and 1891 and, is still regarded today as one of the greatest jockeys of all times. After winning a matched race in 1890 against a White counterpart Murphy discussed his prize winnings with a reporter.
The accepted belief is that Murphy’s interview disclosing the size of racing purses and his own personal earnings started an inevitable backlash against Negro jockeys. Shortly after Murphy’s interview the Jockey Club was created. Membership was a requirement for racing edibility. Since Negro’s were indelible for membership consideration, the death blow had been struck.
The Jockey Club, Post Civil attitudes and Jim Crow laws eventually led to the complete elimination of Negro Jockeys from the sport of horse racing. By 1921 there was not a single Negro Jockey in the sport.
Krigger is astutely aware of the complicated history of horse racing and what his success could mean to the future of the sport. Jimmy Wakefield was the last African-American jockey to win the Derby in 1902. Wakefield won the 1901 and 1902 races and was forced into the fence in 1903 finishing third. In a little less than two minutes, Krigger could span the gap of 111 years and should generation a younger that they can do it too.
“I have always wanted to be a jockey and Ride in the Kentucky Derby. Even at an early age my intentions were always to ride in the Derby someday.”
Not burdened by the weight of the moment, Krigger draws his greatest confidence from the thousands of races under his belt. “I have rode against many of the hall of fame jockeys of my time,” states Krigger. He continues: “I rode against McCarron, Delahoussaye, and Pincay Jr. all of the great ones. That is a great source of pride for me to be able to say that I rode against and won against those guys and they respected me as a good rider and most of all were comfortable riding with me, knowing that I would not put them in a bad or dangerous position.”
Krigger, who stands 5’6” with an ideal racing weight of around 112-114 pounds has given everything to reach his dream. After 12 years of racing in America, Krigger has traversed the country more times than he cares to count, broke three vertebrae in his neck after a fall in 2007 at Turfway Park in Ohio and completed over 6,700 racing starts. After winning the 8th race at Hollywood Park on Friday, Krigger’s 2013 record includes 168 starts, 25 first place finishes, 22 second place finishes and 19 thirds a nearly 40% (ITM) in the money rating.
Krigger’s confidence is off the charts. Ask if he’s going to win? Krigger, without hesitation responds. “I am. It was always my dream to go to the Kentucky Derby with a horse like Goldencents. I feel pretty confident that we are going to win.” He told the New York Times last week.
Krigger and Goldencents will line up as the number 3 entry on Saturday. Doug O’Neal who trained last year’s winner, served as trainer of Goldencents. For trainer’s, having back-to-back wins is nearly as rare as a Black jockey in horse racing. Goldencents is owned by a partnership including RAP Racing which is the stable name for University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. Pitino, who just won the NCAA Basketball championship, owns a 5% share of Goldencents. Could these all be signs of good things to come? We will know on Saturday afternoon.
Gary Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org