01/26/2017 10:30AM

Espinoza and California Chrome: Together again for the last time

Emily Shields
Victor Espinoza and California Chrome have teamed up for 20 straight races - and No. 21 on Saturday will be their last.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Victor Espinoza is hoping to make the best of both a second chance and a final chance with California Chrome on Saturday in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.

The second chance comes against Arrogate, who beat California Chrome in their lone prior meeting, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a result that has gnawed at Espinoza since the horses crossed the wire, for he believes he made a tactical error in that race.

“I should have just let him run,” Espinoza said this week. “I waited too long to open up.”

The final chance is owing to Espinoza’s association with California Chrome, for this will be California Chrome’s last race before going to stud. Espinoza has been aligned with California Chrome for more than three years, time enough for American Pharoah to have come and gone and brought Espinoza a Triple Crown.

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This will be their 21st straight race in tandem, going back to Dec. 22, 2013 – so long ago that it was the final night of racing at Hollywood Park. They have won 14 of 20 starts, 7 of their last 8, and their partnership includes a pair of titles as Horse of the Year, with the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Dubai World Cup, and Pacific Classic among the seven Grade 1 races they have captured.

“I’m very proud of him,” Espinoza said. “Knowing it’s his last race, I’m prepared for it. Realizing I’ll be the last person to ride him – this will be the last time he’s ridden – it’s kind of weird. I’ve ridden him for quite some time. I’ve gotten a little attached to Chrome.

“But now it’s time to face reality. He’s done so much for the sport, it’s time to go and do a different job.”

His affection for California Chrome, plus this being the final chapter of California Chrome’s racing career, has made Espinoza eager for another shot at Arrogate. While Espinoza said he has great respect for Arrogate, calling him an “amazing horse” this week, he has second-guessed his ride in the Classic.

“Every time I get beat on a horse, I think about what I could have done differently, think about trying new things,” Espinoza said. “If it didn’t work, what techniques can I use as a jockey, what can I learn for the future?

“After the Breeders’ Cup, I criticized myself for the way I rode him. I think I can do a better job than I did. It’s a good thing I’m getting a second chance.”

Specifically, Espinoza believes he should have asked California Chrome for his run earlier in the race, before Arrogate was on his hip at the top of the stretch.

“Normally, I let him run. I didn’t,” Espinoza said. “Maybe Arrogate still would have beaten me. But when we crossed the wire, I was bummed.”

Art Sherman, who trains California Chrome, said he doesn’t think Espinoza “will be looking around, like he was in the Breeders’ Cup.”

“For 6 million dollars,” Sherman said, referring to the purse of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, “I think I’d have clucked to him a couple of times.”

As for the Pegasus, Sherman said he’s told Espinoza: “This is the ‘Last of the Mohicans.’ Let’s go for it.”

Espinoza sounds as if he’s approaching this race as he did American Pharoah’s career finale in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he fully opened the throttle on American Pharoah.

“I don’t have to save anything for another race,” Espinoza said. “This is it. All out. If Arrogate beats me again, I’ll give him a lot of respect. I’d never feel bad getting beat by a great horse.”

As much as anything, Espinoza doesn’t want to let down California Chrome’s many fans, scores of whom have traveled here for the race.

“All the Chromies,” he said, “I don’t want to disappoint them.”