Victor Espinoza was back on the beat at Clockers’ Corner even though it’s just a week since he guided iconic California-bred California Chrome to a 3 ¾-length victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup despite sashaying solo seesaw-like after his saddle slipped when the gates opened in the mile-and-a-quarter race. All this according to Ed Golden of Santa Anita Park who issued a great press release with Victor’s thoughts after returning to Santa Anita.
>> Photo by Kentucky Derby Tours of California Chrome winning the 2014 Kentucky Derby
Espinoza, winner of this year’s Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, is flying under the publicity radar which can reach madcap proportions if not harnessed, although Espinoza always seems to have it under control.
“California Chrome was doing great before the race,” recounted Espinoza, who left Dubai Tuesday night after seeing the sights and spending a day at the beach relaxing with friends.
“For three straight mornings before the race, I walked him from the barn area to the track which is like two-and-a-half miles each way, so I was right next to him. He looked outstanding. He was ready to go.
“But regardless of that, once the race starts, you never know what’s going to happen, right? I felt my best chance from the 11 post was to send right out of the gate and get a position, but the very first jump, the saddle started slipping. It happened right out of the gate. That was the scariest thing for me.
“I didn’t know how far I could go. You never know if you can make it all the away around. But I got a position and it was perfect, right where I wanted to be. Then at the five-eighths pole, I felt like my body started to go backwards.
“I realized I still had a long way to go and a lot of things were running through my head, all in a split second. I squeezed my knees against the saddle to the back of the horse because I didn’t want the saddle to go back further. I was trying to keep it where it was.
“I could have waited a little bit longer, but turning for home and with the saddle so far back, I decided to open it up, thinking if I could open up three or four lengths and see the wire, if something did go wrong, I’d have a chance to correct things and still win.
“I was lucky enough to stay on, maintain good balance, and cross the wire in one piece.”