10/31/2015 7:18PM

Espinoza had best seat to watch Pharoah's historic year

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Nikki Sherman
Jockey Victor Espinoza sits aboard American Pharoah following the colt's career finale, a victory in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Following another dominating performance aboard American Pharoah, this time in Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, Victor Espinoza got off the Triple Crown winner one last time and waved to an appreciative, raucous crowd at Keeneland. 

Accompanied by a quartet of security guards, Espinoza was hustled through the walking ring and back to the jockeys’ room on his way to one last press conference to talk about another winning ride on the horse of a lifetime.

Cutting through the jockeys’ room, Espinoza took a seat. “Let me sit here for a minute,” he said to one of the guards.

Jockey John Velazquez, on the vanquished Tonalist, came up and gave Espinoza a congratulatory hug before scurrying out the door. Espinoza watched a replay of American Pharoah down the backstretch. Was it as easy as it looked?

“It looked like it, but it’s not, believe me,” Espinoza said. “That’s a lot of work, let me tell you.”

Espinoza said his biggest fear in the Classic – and in every race in which he’s ridden American Pharoah – is the start.

“My biggest thing for him is the gate,” Espinoza said. “He’s a horse that you can’t think is going to stay still. He always moves around and moves around, and you never know what can happen. It’s my biggest fear that something happens out of the gate, every time I ride him. And that was my only pressure.”

The break was clean, and American Pharoah and Espinoza were in front of Effinex by a length through a comfortable half-mile in 47.50 seconds. Espinoza said that down the backside, American Pharoah “kind of slowed down a little bit.”

Espinoza said he felt the track was a little bit deep in the inside position he had obtained.

“I had to move him out a little bit,” Espinoza said. “As soon as I could move him out a little bit, I could feel him accelerate right there. He’s picking it up, and I said, ‘Okay, I’m staying here.’

“As soon as I turned for home, I said, ‘I don’t have to worry about the track anymore,’ ” Espinoza added. “I just have to cross the wire.”

American Pharoah crossed the wire 6 1/2 lengths in front of Effinex. It was the seventh time in eight starts this year that American Pharoah crossed the wire in front. For Espinoza, it was the ninth time in 10 rides he finished first on American Pharoah, the lone loss coming in the Travers Stakes, a three-quarter-length defeat to Keen Ice.

Was he sad that Saturday was the last time Espinoza will sit on the back of American Pharoah?

“Yes and no,” Espinoza said. “He’s done so much, it’s time for him to take a break. It was a long campaign. He brought a lot of people together. He brought a lot of good memories for everybody; he changed my life.”

And how.

Espinoza was selected to appear on “Dancing With the Stars.” He appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and picked up a few endorsements.

“It’s been the best year ever,” Espinoza said. “I always have to thank Baffert to choose me to ride American Pharoah.”

For Espinoza, he may now star in his own version of “Back to the Future.” While American Pharoah is retired, Espinoza’s 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, California Chrome, is back in training and scheduled to run in 2016.

“I know, right?” Espinoza said. “That’s my boy, California Chrome. You can’t forget him. I am really looking forward to that.”

If that wasn’t enough, perhaps Espinoza has his Derby mount for next year in Swipe, who was beaten just a half-length in Saturday’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“Awesome day,” Espinoza said.

In an awesome year.