05/03/2014 8:50PM

For Espinoza, fear has turned to Kentucky Derby success

Barbara D. Livingston
Victor Espinoza after winning the Kentucky Derby on Saturday aboard California Chrome. Espinoza also won the Derby in 2002 aboard War Emblem.

LOUISVILLE, Ky.- Jockey Victor Espinoza said that when he was a youngster growing up in Mexico, he was afraid of horses.

“Look at me now, I’ve won two Kentucky Derbies,” Espinoza said after winning the Derby on Saturday aboard the 5-2 favorite California Chrome, a horse he’s ridden to five consecutive victories for 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman.

Espinoza, who turns 42 later this month, won his first Kentucky Derby aboard longshot War Emblem for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in 2002. 

Espinoza drove a bus in his hometown of Mexico City before taking riding lessons and attending jockey school for a year, which is mandatory for all jockeys in Mexico. He began his career in 1992, winning for the first time at the Hippodromo de las Americas before moving his tack to California the following year. Espinoza spent several seasons in Northern California, where he first rode for Sherman.

Espinoza’s breakout year came in 2000, when he won or shared three major riding titles, rode Spain to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff for another Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, and finished seventh nationally on the money earnings list. He posted his 3,000th career victory on May 31, 2013 at Hollywood Park.

“It’s an amazing feeling, to win two Kentucky Derbies,” Espinoza said Saturday. “I never thought in a million years I’d ever win one Kentucky Derby when I started my career. I felt we had a lot of pressure on us, going into the Derby today as the favorite. But I told Art after the race, now the pressure is really going to be on.”

Espinoza said there is a big difference between his two Derby winners, War Emblem and California Chrome.

“They are two completely different horses,” said Espinoza, whose brother Jose was a jockey before being forced to retire because of brain damge suffered in a spill, and was in attendance at Churchill Downs on Saturday. “Of course, they’re both tremendously talented. But War Emblem had only one way to go. I had to let him go in front. With this guy, I have a lot of options. He can go to the lead or rate off the pace. It makes my job a lot easier.”

Espinoza said he felt the break was the key to his victory on Saturday.

“I was a little concerned being in post 5 and just wanted to break him as quickly as possible,” said Espinoza. “I wanted to get him out there running and he did and it worked out well. For a moment, right before the wire the first time, I thought about sending him to the lead. Then I made the decision to take him back and sit third. I got a little concerned when I got trapped a little bit in there down the backstretch, and was relieved when I finally was able to get him out. He was going so strong at the three-eighths pole. He was so smooth turning for home, and once I let him go, that was it.”

Espinoza said he donates 10 percent of all his earnings to the City of Hope, a charity that benefits children who have cancer, so the money he won on Saturday made California Chrome’s victory extra special to him.

“One day I went to visit some kids in the hospital who had cancer and it was heartbreaking," he said. "I broke down and cried seeing all these young kids who can’t have the life we have. It changed my life seeing 6- and 8- and 10-year-olds sick with cancer like that. I just hope with the money I earned today, I can make a difference in at least one of those kids' lives.”

Espinoza has certainly made a big difference since joining forces with California Chrome, who had won only twice in six starts before the two teamed up for the first time last winter at Hollywood Park.

“It’s like a dream to me,” said Espinoza who also won the Preakness aboard War Emblem before missing out on the Triple Crown in 2002. “I was very close the last time, just one step away. Hopefully, this time, we can go all the way.”


BNastanovich More than 1 year ago
Good rider, good fellow too. Easy to root for.
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
I love the horse and think he could be vulnerable right back at a super short number. At least good to look at any of the fresh shooters. Pimlico is a track that not all horses like. I remember Fusaichi Pegasuss looking like he was running in sticky goo and Red Bullet running by like he umped in at the eight pole. I want him to win a TC and if he is less than even money next out it might be good value capping to take a stand against. Still, he has a solid foundation and although he is being asked a lot he might be able to squeeze out another solid performance on class - especially if there are no exciting new comers.
philcoforde More than 1 year ago
War Emblem and Victor CHANGED MY LIFE. Their exploits in 2002 inspired me to pursue a career in racing and i'm so happy for CC and his wonderful connections, especially Victor !!!! He WON THE BIG ONE with a huge target on his back and made it look easy.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
This is one stakes colt that Rafael Bejarano didn't take away from Vic.....wonder if when gets back to SA they will have a rematch in jocks room ?
noalaistoday More than 1 year ago
Where was Bejarano on Derby day. Amazing non of the trainers use him in Major races. Maybe because when the money is down he is a no show!!!!!!
David Smith More than 1 year ago
1-5 in the preakness...good race to watch
Gary Brown More than 1 year ago
and 1-2 in belmont...good race to bet!!! against!!!
kmindeye More than 1 year ago
Great job for CC. This horse was the real deal. I was impressed with the other CC Commanding Curve he came from last and was rolling. I changed my exacta ticket from5 -17. To 5 -14 did not have the faith cost me 680. I think both cc have a chance to have a repeat.
Kathy Loppnow More than 1 year ago
Victor is a great jockey and a great person. He really needs to be nominated into the hall of fame! Also w the other certain jockey gone, and i know he knows who I mean, I think he doesn't have the added strife in the jocks room and can concentrate on racing;). This is the year for the triple crown for Victor and Cali Chrome! I Made money in the future books cat bing Cali Chrome at 35:1, but I may not have paid as much attention if Victor wasn't the jockey! Forget Mike Smith this and Gary Steven's that...Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza!!!
Judy Maass Gadwood More than 1 year ago
Victor I've admired you for years. After today: I adore you! You and California Chrome are a terrific match. Go get that Triple Crown!! God bless you.
Manolito Santos More than 1 year ago
Well done Victor 2 more preaknes and belmont and we are done....triple crown for sure....
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
Bless you Victor for the goodness you show to others less fortunate. I'm very pleased for you, CC and the crew. Great Job!