Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Chrome's Empty Tank Obvious to Jockey Espinoza Right Away

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Chrome's Empty Tank Obvious to Jockey Espinoza Right Away

Article excerpt

Since Affirmed swept the previous Triple Crown in 1978, Victor Espinoza is the only jockey to get two cracks at winning the elusive title again. Both times he has left empty-handed.

It was War Emblem in 2002. Saturday, it was California Chrome's turn to lose the Belmont after capturing the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

"We reached almost to the top," Espinoza said. "Just one step away to get to the top."

California Chrome finished in a dead heat for fourth, a disappointment to bettors who made him the 4-5 favorite. The Belmont was Chrome's third race in five week. His tank was empty.

"As soon as he came out of the gate, he wasn't the same," Espinoza said.

Espinoza, 41, was once a bus driver in his native Mexico City. He has won riding titles at four Southern California tracks, winning over 3,000 races and earning $169 million in purses.

With history on the line, he did his best to get California Chrome through the 11/2-mile race. Espinoza kept him on the rail early. On the final turn, with time running out, Espinoza shifted California Chrome outside to light a spark.

"By five-eighths pole [the top of the turn], he was empty," the jockey said. "I tried to move out to see if it would make a difference."

Not with a tired horse.

"I was just waiting for him to have the same kick like he always had before," Espinoza said. "Today, he was a bit flat down the lane. He ran back-to-back races at different tracks, and against those fresh horses."

At least this time, California Chrome got to run his race.

War Emblem was a different kind of horse, a confirmed front- runner who had to have it his way to be effective.

War Emblem stumbled at the start of the Belmont. Espinoza got him back into the race, but playing catchup was not War Emblem's game, and he finished eighth.

Jockeys rarely get a chance for Triple Crown redemption. Espinoza was handed one when California Chrome launched a six-race winning streak the moment they teamed up. …

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