07/06/2011 4:37PM

Belmont Park: Espinoza enjoying taste of Grade 1 success

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Tom Keyser
Jose Espinoza savors his Manhattan victory aboard Mission Approved.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Jose Espinoza's first career Grade 1 victory, aboard Mission Approved in last month's Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park, was a long time coming for the 41-year-old jockey and made him that much more desirous of competing in top-level races.

"I was very excited," Espinoza said in a recent interview. "I'd like to ride more horses and better horses."

MAN O' WAR: Replays, past performances, and race history »

Espinoza will seek his second Grade 1 victory when he rides Mission Approved back in Saturday's $600,000 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park. It was in last year's Man o' War when Espinoza nearly won his first Grade 1 leading every step of the way aboard Mission Approved, then a 53-1 longshot, before getting run down in the final jump by Gio Ponti. Mission Approved, trained by Naipual Chatterpaul, beat Gio Ponti in the Manhattan and will have to face the multiple Eclipse champion again on Saturday.

For Espinoza, the Manhattan was the biggest of his 767 career victories in North America. It was his 11th career graded stakes win and first since Jan. 30, 2005, when he won the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap aboard Country Be Gold.

Espinoza grew up in Mexico City, Mexico, and followed his brother Victor to Southern California in the mid-1990's following a successful stint in Canada in 1995 at Northlands Park, where Jose won 20 races as an apprentice. Espinoza couldn't catch on in Southern California, and he and his brother agreed that one of them should try a different circuit. Jose Espinoza had some success Emerald Downs in Washington in the summer of 1996, before moving to New York in the fall of that year.

Espinoza had two standout years, winning more than 80 races in 1999 and 2001. After each of those years, Espinoza tried riding in Saudi Arabia, but in 2002 he opted out of a four-year contract just four months into it because he didn't like the lifestyle change.

For the last six years, Espinoza has averaged 42 wins a year, winning rich races out of town on New York-based horses Evening Attire and Interpatation. Through the first half of this year, Espinoza has won 32 races, the majority of which have returned double-digit prices.

"I'm very excited when I win on longshot horses, but I ride the same way on any kind of horse," said Espinoza, who is represented by agent Mike Monroe. "Every win for me is exciting, even if it's cheap races, I feel the same. The other day I won the Grade 1 it was special for the horse and trainer because the horse was off for 11 months. I give all the credit to the horse."
Espinoza said he had worked Mission Approved several weeks in a row on the turf and knew he was ready to run a big race after working him a mile in 1:37.68 over the Belmont turf course a week before the Manhattan.

"I said no question about it, he's ready," Espinoza said. "Chatterpaul asked me, 'Jose, what do you think?' I said he's ready for one mile, one mile and a half, whatever. He's laughing. He said, 'I know it too, Jose, I know he's ready.' "

Espinoza, who worked Mission Approved a mile in 1:41.36 last Saturday, hopes Mission Approved is ready to fire another big race on Saturday.

Horse killed in training accident

Fayetta, an unraced 2-year-old colt owned by Carl Lizza's Flying Zee Stables and trained by Carlos Martin, was euthanized after sustaining fatal injuries during a training accident with another unstarted 2-year-old Wednesday morning.

According to Martin, Fayetta was completing a workout over the Belmont training track when a loose horse, who had dumped its rider moments earlier, was galloping the wrong way and was too close to the rail. Roberto Parrilla, the exercise rider of Fayetta, attempted to move off the rail, but the unraced 2-year-old, trained by Lisa Lewis, also moved outward, and the two collided.
Fayetta was removed from the track via equine ambulance and taken back to Martin's barn, but the horse could not bear weight on its hind legs and was euthanized.

"We were hoping that she was in shock or just a really bad tie-up," Martin said. "The way she was trying to move we were hopeful, but after an hour and a half she no longer had any movement behind, so it didn't make sense to make her suffer any more."

Parrilla was taken to North Shore University Hospital and was released without any injuries.
Lewis said her 2-year-old needed stitches to close a wound above his knee but otherwise appeared to be okay. Lewis said her exercise rider, Adam Stapley, was able to get on more horses Thursday morning.

Qualia to try turf

For most of last year, it looked like it was just a matter of when, not if, Qualia, would win a stakes on the dirt. But the female sprinter never reached that goal, coming within a head of Rightly So in the Grade 3 Bed o' Roses.

On Saturday, Quality will change surfaces when she makes her turf debut in the $60,000 Caress Stakes going six furlongs on the turf.

Trainer Robert Ribaudo said Qualia has been plagued by foot problems this year and he is hoping the turf will be a little kinder to the 5-year-old daughter of Saarland.

"The Saarlands _ there aren't a lot of them but they seem to have taken to the grass," Ribaudo said. "We worked her a couple of times on it and she worked very good. Leg-wise, tendon-wise she's fine, it's just her feet. We're still trying to enjoy her without making life too tough for her _ not that this is an easy race."

The Caress drew a field of 11 female turf sprinters including the multiple stakes winner Rose Catherine.