DEL MAR, Calif.— Who didn’t enjoy Victor Espinoza’s journey with American Pharoah or his unbelievable run on California Chrome. Most casual observers didn’t pick up on their stories until after they had won a key 2-year-old race, or even later, after they made their mark on the Derby trail. Espinoza will tell you the road to his Triple Crown, as was the case with American Pharoah or his Kentucky Derby win on California Chrome, started long before the two superstar colts ever got out on the racetrack.
“That’s my goals in life,” Espinoza says, “find the right babies. It seems like there are quite a few I’ve been working.”
He has several lined up for the Del Mar meet and one he helped debut last Sunday. Justique went last-to-first to break her maiden and afterwards drew comparisons to the great Zenyatta. That’s what Espinoza does in the mornings. He’s like a scout on the backside, searching for that diamond in the rough, visiting trainers like Michael McCarthy or John Shirreffs, inquiring about their promising 2-year-olds and offering to lend his years of experience aboard the first-time starters.
“I’m really looking forward to having a good meet with those,” Espinoza said. “Those are the future, the babies…the 2-year-olds, they are the future. You start early with the 2-year-olds, start working and looking toward to the future. That’s how it’s been my entire career.”
It worked in 2013 when Victor climbed aboard a little-known Lucky Pulpit colt in the King Glorious Stakes at Hollywood Park. Six months later California Chrome had won six straight including the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
Fast forward a couple of months to September of 2014 and there’s Espinoza aboard another promising young 2-year-old, winning the Del Mar Futurity. American Pharoah and Victor Espinoza strung together eight straight victories over the next 11 months including the first Triple Crown in 37 years.
Now Espinoza is sitting on a live one. Justique is a daughter of Triple Crown winner Justify out of the Bernardini mare, Grazie Mille.
“She ran like a pro,” Espinoza said. “Not too many 2-year-olds do that. I was so proud of her…the way she ran.”
Entering week three of the Del Mar summer meet, Espinoza has three wins and two seconds out of 19 starts and sits eighth in the jockey standings.
Del Mar Press Release
Photo: Impressive debut winner Justique (Benoit Photo)