It seems hard to believe there was a time that Victor Espinoza was so afraid of horses that he wouldn’t even go near one.
“I was so afraid because they were such angry, huge animals,” he told Arsenio Hall during a recent interview.
However, by the age of 18 the 5’2”, 114 lb. Mexican native mustered up enough courage to enroll in jockey school, and within a year was winning races at the Hipodromo de las Americas near Mexico City. By 20 he was the “hot” apprentice at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields in California, where he often rode for trainer Art Sherman. Now, the team of Espinoza and Sherman are heading into the biggest race of their lives as their horse California Chrome looks to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. For Sherman, 77, this is a once-in-a-lifetime shot. For the 42-year old Espinoza, it is a chance to redeem himself after failing to win the Belmont Stakes 12 years ago when Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner War Emblem fell apart leaving the gate, stumbled badly, was badly bumped and ended up 8th.
“In a million years I never thought I would get a second chance,” Espinoza stated, adding that he has learned a lot since 2002, and feels he is more prepared this time around. He also feels that California Chrome’s temperament and running style are better suited to the test than War Emblem’s were.
“War Emblem only liked to run on the lead, and that was very hard for me. However Chrome is very kind and lets me do whatever I want him to do. Hopefully he comes back strong after his last two wins and is the one to take the Triple Crown at last.”