American Pharoah's remarkable run on the 2015 Triple Crown trail must have felt like déjà vu for Victor Espinoza.
Twelve months after he swept the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with California Chrome and 13 years after he took the first two jewels of the Triple Crown with War Emblem in 2002, Espinoza guided American Pharoah to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes to set him up for a third bid for the Triple Crown.
American Pharoah romped in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby to stamp himself the 2015 Kentucky Derby favorite. American Pharoah wore down Firing Line and Dortmund late in the Kentucky Derby to give Espinoza his third win in the first jewel of the Triple Crown. Two weeks later in Baltimore, American Pharoah was sensational in winning the Preakness by seven lengths after a heady Espinoza sent him right to the lead on a sloppy track at Pimlico.
A year before American Pharoah, Espinoza guided California Chrome to victories 2014 Derby and Preakness to extend the Lucky Pulpit colt's winning streak to six and place him on the cusp of becoming the 12th horse in Thoroughbred racing history to win the U.S. Triple Crown. While the pair didn't win the Triple Crown in 2014, California Chrome was named champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year that year.
Before turning to riding, Espinoza drove a bus in his hometown of Mexico City. He took riding lessons on a farm outside of Mexico after high school, and then attended jockey school for a year, which is a requirement in Mexico.
Four months after winning his first race at Hippodromo de las Americas he moved his tack to the U.S. His brother Jose rides in New York and another brother, Leo, is a former jockey. Espinoza rode at Santa Anita and then moved to Northern California, where he was the leading apprentice at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields. He headed back down the coast to the more lucrative Southern California circuit and won riding titles at Fairplex in 1996 and 1997. Espinoza had a breakout year in 2000 when he won or shared three major riding titles, won 15 graded stakes and finished seventh nationally with $13.2 million in purse earnings.
In 2002, War Emblem's Triple Crown bid ended when he went to his knees leaving the starting gate of the Belmont Stakes and subsequently finished eighth.
In addition to American Pharoah, California Chrome and War Emblem, Espinoza's top mounts include The Tin Man, Evening Jewel, The Usual Q.T., Spain and Smiling Tiger.