04/20/2016 1:00PM

Derby Watch: Whitmore could give Espinoza historic hat trick


In the 141 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, no jockey has ever won the race in three consecutive years, but Victor Espinoza will get a chance to be the first on May 7 when he pilots Whitmore, a mount he secured on Wednesday as the dominoes fell for riders on four Derby runners.

What set in motion the process was Irad Ortiz Jr. committing to trainer Chad Brown, his main client, for the Derby. Ortiz had ridden Whitmore in his last two starts, including a third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday, but opted to stick with Brown and will ride My Man Sam in the Kentucky Derby. He knows what Brown can do for him.

That opened up the mount on Whitmore, and Espinoza was tabbed by an ownership group that includes the colt’s trainer, Ron Moquett.

“We had a lot of interest in the horse,” Moquett said on Wednesday from Ocala, Fla., where he was attending the sale of 2-year-olds in training.

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Moquett said that once it became apparent that Ortiz would not be available, “we moved forward, and we’ve worked out a deal with Victor Espinoza.”

Brown has two runners in the Derby – My Man Sam and Shagaf – and Ortiz has ridden them in seven of their combined eight starts. The only reason he did not ride My Man Sam in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland is because he couldn’t be in two places at once on April 9. He rode Shagaf that day in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, so Julien Leparoux replaced him on My Man Sam at Keeneland.

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But on Wednesday, Ortiz was moved back to My Man Sam for the Derby. In addition to impacting the riding assignment on Whitmore, that allowed the comebacking Joel Rosario to get a Derby mount, as he will now ride Shagaf.

Leparoux, finding himself without a place to sit when the musical chairs stopped with Brown’s two runners, picked up the mount on Spiral Stakes winner Oscar Nominated later in the morning.

Espinoza has been on a remarkable run. He has won five of the last six Triple Crown races, winning the Derby and Preakness in 2014 with California Chrome and the Triple Crown – the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont – last year with American Pharoah.

His victory in last year’s Kentucky Derby made Espinoza only the sixth rider to win the Derby in consecutive years. None of the previous five won three in a row.

Isaac Murphy was the first to win the Derby in consecutive years, with Riley in 1890 and Kingman in 1891. He did not have a mount in the 1892 Derby, in which Azra beat just two rivals. In 1889, Murphy had finished third aboard Once Again, behind the victorious Spokane.

Jimmy Winkfield won the Derby in 1901 with His Eminence and in 1902 with Alan-a-Dale, but he finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length, aboard odds-on favorite Early in the 1903 Derby, won by Judge Himes. In 1900, Winkfield was third aboard Thrive, behind the victorious Lieut. Gibson.

It would be another 70 years until another jockey won the Derby in consecutive years, when Ron Turcotte triumphed with Riva Ridge in 1972 and Triple Crown winner Secretariat in 1973. He did not have a mount in 1974, when Cannonade prevailed in a 23-horse cavalry charge. Turcotte rode in just one more Derby, in 1977 aboard the 31-1 shot Western Wind – who finished 14th of 15 – before suffering a career-ending spinal injury in 1978.

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Eddie Delahoussaye won the Derby in 1982 with Gato Del Sol and in 1983 with Sunny’s Halo. In 1984, he crossed the wire fourth on Gate Dancer, but they were disqualified and moved back to fifth for interfering with Fali Time in the stretch drive. Delahoussaye nearly won the 1981 Derby on Woodchopper, who was a fast-finishing second behind Pleasant Colony, beaten three-quarters of a length.

It took another quarter-century before another rider won two straight Derbies, but now it has happened twice in just a seven-year span.

Calvin Borel won the Derby in 2009 with Mine That Bird and 2010 with Super Saver. He finished 10th in 2011 aboard Twice the Appeal, who was bet down to 11-1 largely because of who was riding him. Preceding his 2009-10 wins, Borel was a distant third in 2008 aboard Denis of Cork – behind the victorious Big Brown – and he won in 2007 on Street Sense.

Now, Espinoza will get his chance. He is a three-time Derby winner, having also won with War Emblem in 2002. He is one of 10 jockeys who have won at least three Derbies. Only Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack, with five each, and Bill Shoemaker, with four, have more.