A big crowd that turned out at Assiniboia Downs Saturday afternoon hoping to witness a little Manitoba horse racing history being made went home disappointed as Manitoba-connected Goldencents finished a disappointing 17th in the Kentucky Derby in Louisville.
A crowd of at least 500 filled the second floor of the Portage Avenue facility to watch a simulcast of the 139th running of the Derby from Churchill Downs and cheer on Goldencents, a three-year-old colt whose mother and grandmother were both Manitoba-breds who ran at Assiniboia Downs.
It was the first time in memory that a horse with such deep Manitoba-bred racing connections ran in the continent's marquee horse race and Winnipeggers weren't the only ones who liked his chances, as the horse went off late Saturday afternoon as the third favorite in the 19-horse field at odds of 7-1.
Racing on a sloppy track after a day of rain in Louisville, Goldencents rider Kelvin Krigger -- who was trying to make history of his own as the first black jockey to win the Derby since 1902 -- got a clean break from the gate and immediately hustled his front-running horse out to the front of the pack.
Krigger tucked in nicely behind the leaders in fourth place and appeared to be content to stalk a blistering early pace.
But as the horses headed for the far turn, a wall of horses formed in front of Goldencents and the horse visibly faltered in the blinding mud.
Goldencents never factored after that and faded badly down the stretch. Krigger stood in the saddle midway down the stretch and gently galloped Goldencents over the finish line.
"It was disappointing. For such good positioning early, I think everyone was expecting more," said Downs CEO Darren Dunn, one of the many who watched on TV at the Downs.
It was not, suffice to say, the result local handicappers were hoping for. A deafening roar in the clubhouse faded to almost complete silence as pre-race favourite, Orb, was the first to reach the finish line in a tepid 2:02.4. Orb paid 12.80 to win, Golden Soul paid $38.60 to place and Revolutionary paid $5.40 to show.
With the barns at Assiniboia Downs full these days as the track prepares for today's opening day of the 2013 live racing meet, many in the crowd who turned up to watch Goldencents run were veteran Downs horsemen who would have raced against his mother -- Golden Works -- and grandmother -- Body Works -- at the Downs over the years.
There were also more casual Winnipeg racing fans sipping mint juleps and wearing the fancy Derby hats that are such a big part of the tradition of the first Saturday in May.
The Downs had staged a promotion on Saturday in which one fan would have won a one-ounce gold coin if Goldencents had won.
One person conspicuous by his absence on Saturday was Phil Kives, the former owner and breeder of both Golden Works and Body Works. Kives sold Golden Works a couple of years ago for a paltry $7,000 after the horse had underperformed on the track at the Downs and her foals had also failed to live up to the legend of their grandmother, Body Works, wo won 14 stakes and over $250,000 racing for Kives at the Downs.
The new ownership bred Golden Works in Kentucky to an equally little known sire and the result was magic, as Goldencents had a fabulous three-year-old campaign that included an impressive -- and very fast -- win in the Santa Anita Derby last month.
Kives had promised last week that he would be at the Downs to watch Goldencents run, but was nowhere in evidence Saturday.
Dunn said he's not sure what to make of what he saw out of Goldencents on Saturday.
"You could come up with a million excuses I guess -- muddy track, too close to the pace, an inexperienced jockey in a Triple Crown race. But the fact is the result just wasn't there.
"There were 17 other horses in that race who also had stories to tell. There can only be one winner."