01/06/2016 11:36AM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Victor Espinoza


Victor Espinoza went where no rider had gone in 37 years in 2015, winning the Triple Crown with American Pharoah. For a grand finale to their historic season, the pair tacked on a win in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Espinoza’s unforgettable year on the track has led to his being named an Eclipse Award finalist for outstanding jockey. 

The rider, 43, reached racing’s pinnacle on June 6, when American Pharoah completed a sweep of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes. Espinoza twice before had been in a position to be the first jockey since Steve Cauthen aboard Affirmed in 1978 to accomplish the feat, when he teamed with War Emblem in 2002 and California Chrome in 2014.

But his moment would have to wait until 2015. Espinoza told Daily Racing Form that with the prize finally tangible in the Belmont Stakes stretch, he never even heard the roar of the crowd as American Pharoah shuttled home by 5 1/2 lengths. 

“I was so concentrated,” Espinoza said. “I said, ‘I’ve been here three times, and this hasn’t happened yet.’ I wanted to ride to the wire. I just dropped my hands, and he took off. It was such an amazing feeling being 20 yards from the wire, and you’re like three or four lengths in front. And then, at the finish line, I could not believe I did it, that I had won the Triple Crown.”

Espinoza first partnered with American Pharoah in the 2014 Del Mar Futurity and overall was 9 for 10 with the horse, who retired after the Breeders’ Cup. 

“The only thing I could say after riding him the first time was ‘wow,’ ” Espinoza said. “He’s just amazing.”