On this rainy day at Churchill Downs, even the Rick Pitino karma couldn’t help his horse Goldencents in the Kentucky Derby.
The University of Louisville men’s basketball coach was going for the ultimate trifecta after winning the NCAA national title and being announced as a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on the same day the previous month.
Three of his former players — Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and Mike Marra — were waiting in the winner’s circle to hand the winning connections the garland of roses.
But Pitino’s incredible run didn’t continue.
Watching from his suite on the fifth floor at the track, Pitino saw Goldencents press the pace early in the first leg of the Triple Crown and then drop back late to finish 17th in the field of 19. Jockey Kevin Krigger eased the horse down the stretch.
“At least we won the championship,” Pitino said after the race, referring to his basketball team’s victory over Michigan in the championship game.
The 60-year-old Pitino owns only 5 percent of the Santa Anita Derby winner and said in the weeks leading up to the race that it “was just a hobby.”
“The Derby is fun to me,” Pitino said. “Win or lose, it’s a fun day.”
It was going to be hard for Goldencents to win with the fast pace set early in the race by Palace Malice, who raced to the lead in the Derby.
Jockey Kevin Krigger said he tried to relax Goldencents and thought he “was comfortable” down the backstretch but “just didn’t get there.”
“It’s disappointing,” Krigger said. “We’ve all had such a great week.”
Krigger tried to get some of the Pitino/Louisville mojo going before the race. He was flashing the ‘L’ symbol with his hands to the crowd in the paddock, which he learned from Pitino after taking photos with the coach on Friday night at his Derby party.
Once the horses were on the track, Krigger then flashed an ‘L’ toward the area where the three former players were standing with the roses.
“It just didn’t happen,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “I figured when people [before the race] said there wasn’t a lot of speed that it usually turns out to be a lot of speed. That’s just the way it is. We’ve had a lot of fun [during Derby week].
“The most important thing is it looks like he came back [healthy].”
Update: Goldencents finished fifth in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday in Baltimore.