At a time when most kids are thinking about kindergarten, Kevin Krigger began his riding career. As a 5-year-old, Krigger rode in informal and pastures around his native St. Croix...

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At a time when most kids are thinking about kindergarten, Kevin Krigger began his riding career.

As a 5-year-old, Krigger rode in informal and pastures around his native St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Even then, he knew what he was going to do when he grew up.

“I can’t remember wanting to do anything other than being a jockey,” said Krigger, who grew up with horses in his backyard. “I’ve always loved to ride.”

Krigger, 21, is riding often and well these days. He is the leading rider at Emerald Downs with 25 wins, six more than any other rider. He finished sixth at Emerald Downs last year with 64 wins, even though he missed the first couple of months.

“I have set some very high goals for myself this year, and one of the top ones is to win the jockey title,” he said. “I have never won a jockey title before.”

Krigger’s competitive spirit was born in those match races on the island. Up to 50 riders would compete, with money often changing hands based on the outcomes.

“I learned how to break fast and I learned how to ride aggressively in those races,” Krigger said. “In a match race like that, if you miss the break, you’re done.”

By high school, he was a licensed jockey and won his first official race at a racetrack on the island.

Win-A-Jockey sweepstakes

Emerald Downs will run a Win-A-Jockey Sweepstakes on Monday where a fan will win a percentage of a jockey’s earnings.

To enter, an entry form must be dropped off in a bin on the second floor of the racetrack. Names will be chosen at random, so that each person represents one jockey in the featured race. If your jockey wins, you receive 1percent of that jockey’s earnings from the entire season at Emerald Downs.

“I will never forget that race,” he said. “The horse won by 12 ½ lengths. I already knew that was what I wanted to do, but that just reaffirmed it. It was a great feeling.”

Krigger also knew he would have to leave the Virgin Islands. There weren’t enough races for him there. So, at 17, he left home for Thistledown Racetrack in North Randall, Ohio, about 10 miles southeast of Cleveland.

“It wasn’t hard leaving home because I knew it was what I had to do,” he said.

Krigger not only left home at a tender age, he became one of the country’s few black jockeys.

“I don’t think about that very often, but when I do, it makes me want to do better,” said Krigger, Emerald Downs’ only full-time black jockey. “For the most part, I think I have been judged by my abilities and not my color. There have been some places where there is a different type of feeling, but I try to overlook it. I try to overcome that with my ability.”

His belief in that ability never wavered, even when his career did.

He did not stay long at Thistledown, and like most jockeys, he moved often.

Krigger said he has ridden at 11 or 12 different tracks, with varying success. From Hollywood Park in California to Churchill Downs in Kentucky, from Gulfstream Park in Florida to Mountaineer in West Virginia, Krigger has been plying his trade against the game’s best.

“My career has been wavy so far, with its ups and downs, but overall I am pretty happy with how it’s gone,” he said.

He is happy with his start at Emerald Downs, and plans to race here the entire meet.

“I really like it here, and I knew I could get a lot of rides,” he said.

Krigger also had some strong allies here, including his agent, Boone McCanna, and Boone McCanna’s brother, Tim.

Tim McCanna, Emerald Downs’ all-time leading trainer, likes having Krigger ride his horses. Ten of Krigger’s 25 wins have been on McCanna-trained horses.

“Tim really has his horses ready, and I really like riding for him,” Krigger said. “We make a really good team.”

But Tim McCanna’s relationship with Krigger goes beyond the racetrack. Krigger lived with Tim and Boone in Auburn last year.

“He is just a very nice kid,” Tim McCanna said. “He has this great ‘no-worries’ attitude. I don’t think I have ever seen him down, or get fazed by anything.”

McCanna remembers getting mad after one of Krigger’s rides last year.

“I am lighting into him, and he was just grinning,” McCanna recalled. “I finally yelled at him to never do it again, and I started laughing, too. Being around him, I find I take myself less seriously.”

McCanna said Krigger is not only very athletic, but a good horseman.

“He has been around horses all his life and he really understands them,” McCanna said. “He is great when he works my horses out. He gives me a lot of good information on what I might be able to do to get the horse to improve.

“And he is a team player. He will work my horses out, even if he isn’t going to race them. Some jockeys won’t do that.”

Krigger started riding for McCanna in Northern California, and after the Emerald Downs season, Krigger hopes to settle there.

“I would like to ride year-round in Northern California for about five or six years and see what I can do,” Krigger said. “Then, I would like to go to Southern California or Kentucky full-time.”

He envisions competing favorably while going against the sport’s best and dreams of winning the biggest races.

“I think every jockey dreams of winning the Kentucky Derby and the other big races,” he said. “That’s a goal of mine.”

Tim McCanna believes Krigger has that kind of ability.

“He has had success before at the biggest tracks, and he is definitely good enough to compete with the best,” McCanna said.

Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or

Race favorites
A look at the top four jockeys in the Emerald Downs standings:
Jockey Mounts Wins
Kevin Krigger 121 25
Ricky Frazier 115 19
Mick Ruis 100 16
Juan Gutierrez 111 16