09/04/2014 2:53PM

Hovdey: Espinoza has another shiny prospect

Shigeki Kikkawa
Victor Espinoza guides American Pharoah to a 4 3/4-length victory in the Del Mar Futurity.

Victor Espinoza was sitting quietly aboard 2-year-old Visitation in the Del Mar gate last Wednesday afternoon, awaiting the start of the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf, when Increase, in the next stall, reared, twisted, and began to flail after launching his rider, Fernando Perez, out the back.

These things happen, but at Del Mar this summer, the extreme turned into the routine. There was an early-season spike in equine fatalities, injuries to veteran riders Stewart Elliott and Brice Blanc, a new turf course closed twice for softening and rocks collected daily from a degrading Polytrack sub-base. By the time the dust had settled for the Juvenile Turf, two horses in the field had run loose, three starters were scratched, including Visitation, and Espinoza had to hoof it back to the jockeys’ room along the outside rail of the stretch.

“Nobody saw it, but I was pretty sure my horse got hit somewhere on his hip by the horse that flipped, so I had them take a look,” Espinoza said later. “There was no need to take any chances.”

Of course Espinoza meant to say there was no need to take any chances above and beyond the routine roll of the dice that comes with every ride in every race. Back at the Paddy Gallagher barn, Visitation appeared to be okay, Espinoza sat out the race, and then an hour later guided American Pharoah to a resounding victory in the $300,000 Del Mar Futurity in their first collaboration.

One year ago, on Del Mar’s closing day, Espinoza found himself without a Futurity mount and free to head back to L.A. But he lingered to watch the race, because there was a colt in the field named California Chrome that he’d been following with interest since a maiden win at Hollywood Park. The colt had a troubled trip in the Futurity and still finished a close sixth, which impressed Espinoza even more. Three and a half months later the mount was his.

“Last year I’m watching the race, and this year I win it,” Espinoza said in the jocks’ room at the end of closing day. “I don’t know what that means. It turned out okay watching last year, didn’t it? And now this colt, big and fast, he could be anything.”

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “Long Rein: Tales from the World of Horse Racing,” a collection of columns and features by Jay Hovdey

In fact, American Pharoah was a maiden with one start going into the Futurity, part of the plentiful 2-year-old crop peeled off by the Bob Baffert stable each season. If there is a better one than American Pharoah, though, look out. Riding to Baffert’s instructions, Espinoza seized the track from the start and was looking for more at the end of the 7 furlongs.

“He broke a little slow,” Espinoza noted. “But it didn’t take him long to get going, and he felt very strong. I know he was a maiden, but he would not have been in a Grade 1 race unless there was a good reason. That’s why Baffert wins so many races like this.”

American Pharoah, a son of Pioneerof the Nile bred and owned by the Zayat Stables, is a big, handsome bay with a lot of body and half a tail. His win gave Baffert an even dozen Del Mar Futurities, dating back to Silver Charm in 1996. The trainer had already decamped to Santa Anita, leaving assistant Jim Barnes to do the honors at Del Mar.

“We took the blinkers off him because he was getting a little stirred up, and he already had plenty of speed,” Barnes said. “Then we added earplugs for today.”

And the tail?

“I don’t know what happened there,” Barnes replied. “That’s the way he came to us. He’ll swat at a fly and come up short, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference in the way he runs.”

Espinoza’s Futurity win came hard on the heels of his no-prisoners ride aboard favored Sunset Glow to take the Del Mar Debutante the previous weekend, when splitting rivals in the upper stretch made the difference in a narrow win. The rider can be forgiven, however, if his thoughts stray from a budding association with such promising 2-year-olds to California Chrome, whose Kentucky Derby and Preakness heroics last spring helped make Espinoza America’s best-known jockey, at least for now.

On Saturday, between races at Los Alamitos, Espinoza will be aboard California Chrome in a public workout designed to move the colt closer to dead fit for his engagement in the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 20, his first start since finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes. After working California Chrome twice in the last two weeks, Espinoza will be looking for that old feeling.

“It’s very hard to get a horse to the Kentucky Derby and have him run his race,” Espinoza said. “The shape he was in after he won the Santa Anita Derby, I thought nobody could beat him. But then to go through the Triple Crown like he did is even tougher.

“Now he’s got to get back to that again,” he went on. “In their mind they know they’re back at their job. But the most important thing is their body, especially with a big horse like California Chrome. They need to get their muscles back from the time off.

“I will ask him for a little more on Saturday, but I won’t push him, because he needs to tell us where he is,” Espinoza added. “All I know is when he’s a hundred percent, he’s an amazing horse.”


William Eisele More than 1 year ago
well you can braid him some dreads into his tail after that AWESOME PERFORMANCE
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
mike More than 1 year ago
FESTUS ELROY More than 1 year ago
The Canadian Triple Crown
Old timer More than 1 year ago
winning at 7 furlongs on the synthetic is a long way from the Derby and 1 1/4 miles. However i do like Pharoah's breeding. The Unbridled line is a good one for the Kentucky Derby. If Chrome gets back to his old self, the Classic will be a great one this year.
B More than 1 year ago
I would be nice to see Chrome win the PA Derby, but it really doesn't matter. He wins the 3 year old championship unless Shared Belief wins the Classic. They're both terrific for the game & I hope they both have long careers and much success. American Pharoah was very impressive, but it's just one race, so time will tell, but the filly, Sunset Glow, is sure turning out to be an interesting one.
Kendall Daniels More than 1 year ago
American Pharoah took advantage of a golden rail. Whether he's really a route horse or not is TBD. Victor's comments about CC are interesting because after Saturday he only has 1 work left before the Pen Derby. If he's hinting that CC may not be all the way back yet 2 works away from the race then it's doubtful he'll be ready for the race.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That's ok. The Pennsylvania Derby isn't the main goal. He should be fit as a fiddle for the Classic.
mike More than 1 year ago
Lol. Did you read about his latest workout?
JOHN Repasky More than 1 year ago
i like how victot took to instructions from jim barnes assistant to bob baffert. I like american phaorah potential he looks like promising horse going into his 3yr old campaign.
David N More than 1 year ago
Thank you Mark Oleary! Why DRF lets scammers use the comment section for their little bogus stuff is beyond me. Ashleigh LEARN HOW TO SPELL!!! Anyone stupid enough to think what she says is real DESERVES to lose all their money.
Gunner More than 1 year ago
Seemed to be an inside bias on the main track in sprints yesterday. Still, hard not to like Victor Espinoza. Good luck!
mark oleary More than 1 year ago
get rid of these people that have nothing to do with horseracing, and their phony scams about getting big checks for very little work, our firm has checked out these claims and they are bogus, and dangerous, and will empty your wallet , not fill it. so come on daily racin form, police yourself a little better, and get rid of this vermin. we dont want it and we dont need it. and then you expect us to pay 20 bucks a month for drf +. no way, not when you let scum like this proliferate on your comments pages. and one more thing: Ashleigh, and low lifes like you,, go away and peddle your garbage somwhere else! you make me sick.
Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
you would think the drf online police would.....say something they don't like and they will ban your arse for awhile.....but these fools with the get rich quick schemes are ok...go figure....maybe they throw drf a bone ?
Hail No More than 1 year ago
That's a good point, Lawrence, but maybe Hovdey is just out for the night? Because he usually removes this kind of spam immediately.
James Ronan More than 1 year ago
A week ago in an article about V. E. Day and his Travers win I made some complimentary comments about Jimmy Jerkens and his Dad H. A. Jerkens. I also made a snide and unacceptable comment about Todd Pletcher. I'm very sorry for that comment, I need to be quite a bit more understanding of my fellow man, I suppose like many of us I am a work in progress and hope to do much better and intend to now and in the future....
mike More than 1 year ago
James,whatever you said about Pletcher,he deserved it. I can't stand him,bet Life At Ten can't either. lol
Charlie More than 1 year ago
Your post indicates you are farther along in your progress than you realize...
Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
unvarnished thoughts are ok ....I just hate political correctness
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
Your repudiation of your previous comments re: Pletcher is appreciated. It takes guts to make such a public retraction. We are all "works in progress."