Kevin Krigger has spent most of his life looking for rides.
As a boy on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Krigger would attempt to get a lift to the local horse track from a friendly driver. If that failed, Krigger said, he would walk two hours just to watch the races.
As an adult at tracks in Ohio, West Virginia, Washington and elsewhere, Krigger has been on a 12-year mission to convince trainers to let him be their jockey. Life isn't easy for a journeyman rider nearing 30, particularly one with a light resume. That's why Krigger is smiling so much these days.
He will ride in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday for the first time, and not on some plodding long shot. Krigger will be aboard Goldencents, the 5-1 third favorite trained by Doug O'Neill, last year's Derby winner.
"I just want May 4 to come so I can get this Derby win under my belt," Krigger said. "I feel like I'm on the winning horse. There's not another horse I wish I was on instead."
Krigger, 29, is among the few black jockeys in the profession. The first Kentucky Derby, in 1875, had 15 horses, and 13 had black jockeys. Segregation laws steadily drove black jockeys from the track, and by the early 20th century they had become scarce. They never really have returned.
Krigger's locker at Santa Anita in California includes a picture of Jimmy Winkfield, the last black jockey to win the Derby (in 1902), and Krigger is the race's first black jockey since Marlon St. Julien in 2000.
"I don't dream about riding in the Kentucky Derby," Krigger said. "I dream about winning the Kentucky Derby."
Two months ago, only die-hard railbirds had heard of Krigger. But he has been aboard Goldencents for all six of the horse's races, including four wins. When the colt won the Santa Anita Derby last month and qualified for the Kentucky Derby, O'Neill didn't give a thought to replacing Krigger with a jockey who had Kentucky Derby experience.
"It takes a lot of hard work and self-confidence to take an opportunity and run with it," O'Neill said. "He was just so ready, so prepared for this opportunity, and we're seeing the results of it."
Krigger started riding professionally as a teenager, and seeing an opportunity for a career, he moved to Ohio at 17. A couple of years later, Krigger had an apprenticeship at Southern California tracks, but it led to only modest success and not enough interest from trainers, so Krigger set out to prove himself.
After bouncing around the country, he had success in Seattle in 2011, then more during a stint at Golden Gate Fields in the San Francisco Bay area. That's where respected jockey agent Tom Knust found him.
"I've been around the track for 45 years," Knust said. "I've never known anybody like Kevin. He's a hard worker and a good family man (Krigger and his fiancee, Taisha, have four kids; the oldest is 12). And he's talented. He has a lot of ability. He gets horses to relax for him."
Knust brought Krigger back to Southern California last year, and that's when the legwork started. Krigger would walk the barn area in the morning, when horses train, and offer his services.
O'Neill said he and the workers at his barn "fell in love" with Krigger because of the jockey's attitude and persistence. One morning, O'Neill did have work for Krigger, as the exercise rider for Goldencents, who had not run a race.
On Sept. 2, 2012, Goldencents debuted, with Krigger aboard.