Espinoza on a Derby roll with 2nd straight wins, 3 overall
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Victor Espinoza is getting pretty good at winning the Kentucky Derby.
The jockey who calls himself the “the luckiest Mexican on Earth” won his second straight Derby and third overall on Saturday, guiding favorite American Pharoah to a one-length victory over Firing Line before a record crowd of 170,513 at Churchill Downs.
Espinoza won last year’s Derby aboard another favorite, California Chrome, and with War Emblem in 2002. Two of his wins came for trainer Bob Baffert, with American Pharoah and War Emblem.
The 42-year-old became the seventh jockey to win three Derbies and the sixth to win in back-to-back years — Calvin Borel being the most recent with Super Saver in 2010 and Mine That Bird in 2009.
Winning, Espinoza said, “never gets old.”
“There’s been a lot of great trainers that haven’t been able to win it because they just didn’t have the horse, but every great jockey wins the Kentucky Derby,” Baffert said in praising his jockey.
American Pharoah was the 3-1 favorite in the 18-horse field. After winning last year’s race, Espinoza said Baffert congratulated him with this message: “You and I, next year.”
“What were the odds?” Espinoza asked Saturday. “We were just joking around.”
Espinoza, among the nation’s leading riders, describes himself as nervous and hyper, yet was calm throughout the week. Even his wife said he seemed unexpectedly relaxed.
It’s understandable why Espinoza felt strongly entering the Derby: American Pharoah had won four straight stakes races by 22 1/4 lengths combined.
“It’s all about confidence,” he said. “I went into this race with so much confidence in American Pharoah. The way he was running, the way he was winning.”
American Pharoah cruised to a dominating eight-length win in the Arkansas Derby on April 11 that made him the horse to beat.
The horse and Espinoza now prepare for the trip to Baltimore in two weeks for the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Espinoza won the Preakness after winning his first two Derbys, but fell short in winning the elusive Triple Crown each time in the Belmont Stakes.
Just before the race, the wife of American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat promised she’d make Espinoza dinner if he won.
After he held up his end, she told the crowd at the post-race news conference, “I owe you dinner.”
Espinoza answered, “I hope you know how to make Mexican food.”