10/05/2016 1:20PM

Espinoza's day hard to forget, or repeat


“I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn’t I get that day over and over and over ... ” – Bill Murray, “Groundhog Day”

Because you can’t, that’s why. Because it wouldn’t be good for you, just like eating steak and chocolate cake for every meal wouldn’t be good for you, or never being told no.

So, no, Victor Espinoza, you may not have a day like last Saturday over and over and over again. You had it once, so count your blessings, and thank your lucky charms that everything came up green clovers and pink hearts.

Six mounts, four wins, three of them in Grade 1 events, all three of them aboard horses who should figure big time in Breeders’ Cup races a month from now. That’s what I call dancing with the stars.

California Chrome dominated in the $300,000 Awesome Again, and Stellar Wind certainly was no surprise when she beat Beholder on the square in the $300,000 Zenyatta. Gormley, on the other hand, was a fat 10-1 when he separated himself from the West Coast 2-year-olds in the $300,690 FrontRunner Stakes while leading from start to finish to beat the heavily favored Klimt.

Gormley? Klimt? What is this, MOMA West or a horse race? Gustav Klimt everyone knows – he painted with real gold! – while the winner of the FrontRunner is named for the English artist Antony Gormley, whose imposing “Angel of the North” steel sculpture is the largest in England.

“I’ve tried to buy something of Gormley’s for years and never could get it done,” said Jerry Moss, who owns the colt with his wife, Ann. “He’s a tremendous guy, and it’s nice there’s a horse like this named after him.”

Fittingly, the FrontRunner was an exercise in abstract expressionism from the start. That’s where the Doug O’Neill-trained Secret House left the gate like a shot, but without Santiago Gonzalez, who had apparently begun to dismount just as the latch was sprung. Assistant trainer Leandro Mora, who at this time last year was recovering from a mild, stress-related stroke, was glad he took his meds.

“Before I saw the video and talked to the jock, I wanted to kill the starter,” Mora said. “The next day, I apologized to him.”

After Gonzalez debriefed him in their native Spanish, Mora got a clear enough picture to write off the incident as bad communication.

“The rider said the horse touched the doors, and once that happened, he thought the veterinarian would want to look at him,” Mora said. “But the rider never let the starter or the vet know he was getting off the horse, and just as he stepped off, the button was pushed.”

A riderless horse is like a kid waving a loaded gun: You’re lucky if nothing terrible happens.

In his first start after winning the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Fort Larned dropped Brian Hernandez at the start of the Gulfstream Park Handicap and led the field all the way around, then pulled up like a pro.

In the 1967 Hollywood Gold Cup, O’Hara bolted into the guide rail while leaving the chute and dumped Milo Valenzuela, after which he pestered the favored Pretense just enough to give Native Diver an uncontested lead. O’Hara ended up finishing first, a length in front of Native Diver.

The most poignant loose horse in racing history was Please Me, who went to the post at Santa Anita on a January afternoon in 1946 with George Woolf in the saddle. Woolf fell off on the first turn in a diabetic faint and was killed. Please Me continued on, as he was trained to do, and crossed the finish line first.

Secret House was not quite so disciplined. Instead of rounding the first turn with the field, he bore out, taking the speedy Straight Fire with him. With the other speed horses eliminated, Gormley found himself on an unaccosted lead – including three-quarters in 1:11.48 – and took it from there, winning by three lengths.

By contrast, the other Espinoza wins were played out with guns blazing from the start. Stellar Wind pressed Beholder through six furlongs of the 1 1/16-mile Zenyatta in 1:09.75 to win by a neck. California Chrome put a dead-game Dortmund away after six furlongs of the nine-furlong Awesome Again in 1:09.28 and won by 2 1/4 lengths, throttled down. Bob Baffert, Dortmund’s trainer, had his own take.

“You were going easy,” Baffert told Espinoza, describing California Chrome’s pace.

“Easy?” Victor replied. “In 1:09?”

“Yeah, but you had nobody behind you,” Baffert countered, referring to the distance they’d put on the rest of the field.

“Nobody?” Espinoza said. “I had Dortmund behind me!”

They were both right. California Chrome was going easily, in a fast 1:09, and kept going, the way horses like Ghostzapper, Cigar, and Precisionist discouraged opponents in the past.

So, maybe Espinoza will turn the Breeders’ Cup into his own version of “Groundhog Day” after all. With Espinoza aboard, Gormley is 2 for 2, Stellar Wind has beaten Beholder twice in a row, and California Chrome has won his last six. It just keeps happening, over and over and over again.