Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Espinoza Eyes 3rd Victory in 7 Tries Jockey's Mount Is American Pharoah, the Early Favorite

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Espinoza Eyes 3rd Victory in 7 Tries Jockey's Mount Is American Pharoah, the Early Favorite

Article excerpt

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There's a stack of Kentucky Derby developments that are difficult to explain, but this one belongs at the top of the list:

Jockey Victor Espinoza has won more Kentucky Derbies than the amazing Laffit Pincay Jr. Or Pat Day. Or John Velasquez.

"I don't even believe that myself," Espinoza said.

Believe it. It's true. Espinoza has two Derby victories and is chasing a third. He has the mount on American Pharoah, the Derby favorite Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Nobody rode a horse as fearlessly or intelligently as Pincay. But the Derby served him a consistent plate of heartburn: One win in 21 tries.

Nobody dominated Churchill Downs the way Day did - except for the feature race the first Saturday of May. Make it 22 starts, one win for Day.

Velasquez is considered the best rider of this generation. He's one for 16 in the race America remembers.

The calculator does not lie: Pincay, Day and Velasquez are a combined three for 59 in the Derby.

Espinoza is two for six - scoring on War Emblem in 2002 and then doing it again last year on California Chrome.

The jockey will not try to tell you that he is a Derby savant, a rider who has cracked a special code. He will not argue that there is a special path along the rail or that you have to win the Derby from the front of the pack.

"I'm just a regular guy, trying to win another one," Espinoza said.

Three Derby victories on seven mounts would move Espinoza into a special club and start the talk that Espinoza has cracked the code. He would move into a club with Angel Cordero and Gary Stevens. Only nine jockeys have won the race three times. Only five riders have won it in consecutive years. Espinoza is primed to become the fifth because he won the Derby and Preakness on California Chrome last spring.

"Victor is a tremendous big-race rider," said Bob Baffert, the man who trains American Pharoah. "He always keeps his cool."

Primed is the proper verb because Espinoza has the prime mount in the race. American Pharoah has flashed to four consecutive victories by about 22 combined lengths.

The unbeaten streak began after Espinoza replaced Martin Garcia as the colt's rider in September. …

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