01/07/2016 3:54PM

Espinoza enjoys wild two-year ride


CYPRESS, Calif. – If you thought you saw jockey Victor Espinoza somewhere, you were probably right. For the past two years, he’s been more omnipresent than Marlin Man, from the winner’s circle at Triple Crown races to under the mirror ball on “Dancing With the Stars” to a recent movie promo shoot with Kevin Hart.

If you want someone to “Ride Along,” who better than Espinoza?

“It was the best time ever,” Espinoza said of shooting a promo for the upcoming movie “Ride Along 2” in North Carolina with Hart, Ice Cube, and linebacker Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers, clearly the oddest Fab Four ever.

“That was the first time I met Kevin. I stand next to him – wow, he’s almost as tall as me. Finally, I find a guy as short as me,” Espinoza said. “It was a team. Kevin and I and the other two guys.

“Two shorts guys against the tallest guys and the strongest guys ever. I was telling Kevin the only way we can win this is to go for their ankles. It was easy for us – we’re short. Just go for their ankles. It was so much fun.”

:: California Chrome returns, seeks to reclaim spotlight

Fun has been the operative word over the past year-plus for Espinoza. At age 43, he’s clearly having the time of his life with the opportunities presented by having won five of the last six Triple Crown races with California Chrome and American Pharoah, including last year’s sweep by American Pharoah, the first in 37 years.

Suddenly, Espinoza was the most popular man in racing. He presented at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville. He made multiple appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” And he was a complete ham on “Dancing With the Stars,” from which he was bounced in an early round but returned in the finale to photobomb just about everyone.

“ ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ it was very challenging and intense. But the finals, it was the best time ever because there was no pressure,” Espinoza said.

There was pressure, Espinoza said, when riding in the Triple Crown races. After failing to sweep the series with War Emblem in 2002 and California Chrome in 2014, he said he believed last year was his “last chance to win the Triple Crown.”

“And one wrong mistake that I could make, that’s it, it’s gonna be gone, my chances,” he said.

“I had two chances to be able to win the Triple Crown, and this is going to be my last, this is the third time. ‘Third time the charm,’ always thinking in my mind. I don’t want to blow it. The last thing I want to do is blow my chances.

“It was hard, but in a way, it was fun, and I consider myself one of the luckiest, luckiest jockeys in the world. Not just in the United States, in the world. To be able to have three chances to win the Triple Crown, and finally after 37 years, I got it done.”

And the party was just starting.

Video by Molly McGill