When a jockey wins two races in a single afternoon, he’s enjoyed a successful day. Three wins signifies a banner afternoon and four is bound to generate buzz among racing fans and horseplayers.
But how about seven wins in a single day? Only on the rarest of occasions will a jockey embark on such a memorable win streak. During the first 69 years of racing at Del Mar in California, no jockey managed to win more than six races on a single card.
It was Labor Day, the penultimate day of the annual summer meet, and Espinoza was putting the finishing touches on a wildly successful meet. The star jockey had dominated Del Mar for weeks, and by the time the meet concluded he would count 64 victories to his credit, the highest win total by any jockey since 1993. As the meet wound down, Bob Mieszerski succinctly summed up Espinoza’s success in the Sept. 5, 2006 edition of The Los Angeles Times: “Nobody is sorrier to see the end of Del Mar than Victor Espinoza.”
Indeed, on that unforgettable Labor Day, it seemed as though Espinoza could do no wrong.
The afternoon began in successful, but not particularly remarkable fashion for the future jockey of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and fan favorite California Chrome. Assigned to ride overwhelming favorite Spot the Diplomat in the I’m Smokin Stakes, Espinoza guided the gelding to a 2 ¾-length victory at odds of 1-10.
Half an hour later, Espinoza rode 4-5 favorite Specific Rule to an easy victory in a maiden claiming race, leading all the way to prevail by five lengths. Then in the Windy Sands Handicap, Espinoza had to work a little harder aboard Preachinatthebar, but coaxed the 2.40-1 second choice to battle home 1 ¼ lengths in front.
Three races, three rides, three winners. Espinoza was off to a sharp start, and he kept the momentum going aboard Dream’s in the fourth race, guiding the 3.20-1 shot out of tight quarters to rally and win an allowance optional claiming race by 1 ¼ lengths.
A maiden special weight for California-breds was next on the card, and Espinoza — riding his wave of success — deftly guided 9-5 second choice Swiss Ski through traffic to romp home by 3 ½ lengths. Splitting horses? Inside rally? No problem. Espinoza and Swiss Ski wove through traffic like a slalom skier maneuvering between poles.
Halfway through the 10-race card, Espinoza hah won every race and a record-breaking day loomed on the horizon. History was in reach and Espinoza never had to break a sweat while securing his sixth victory, which came courtesy of 8-5 favorite Malt Magic in a maiden special weight race. The 2-year-old colt led all the way to win by 9 ½ lengths, with Espinoza easing him across the finish line.
The glorious streak came to a temporary halt when Espinoza’s mount Tuff Muffin fell a half-length short of victory in the seventh race to finish third, but this defeated was followed by the feature race of the day - the $250,000 Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante Stakes, in which Espinoza had the mount on 8-5 favorite Point Ashley, a promising filly conditioned by Bob Baffert.
Espinoza and Baffert had famously teamed up to win the 2002 Kentucky Derby with War Emblem, a historic victory no doubt, but they were poised to make history of a different kind at Del Mar. When the starting gates opened, Espinoza reserved Point Ashley in third place, five to six lengths behind blazing quarter-mile fractions of :21.25 and :44.17.
Espinoza then asked his filly to advance, and in the blink of an eye, seven victories in a single day transitioned from dream to reality. With a decisive burst of speed, Point Ashley rolled past the leaders and cruised to an unchallenged 2 ½-length triumph.
For the first time, a jockey had won seven races in one day at Del Mar.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable,” marveled Espinoza in the Sept. 5, 2006 edition of Owensboro, Kentucky's Messenger-Inquirer: “Today is a day I won’t ever forget.”
According to Espinoza, it was a day on par with winning the Kentucky Derby.
“When I started riding, I said I wanted to win the Kentucky Derby and do something like this — win a whole bunch of races at a track in one day,” Espinoza continued. “To do it at Del Mar — and in a race like this — this is very, very special. The people behind me — my agent, the horsemen who give me such great horses and the fans here — all make this special.”
In the years following Espinoza’s glorious, seven-win Labor Day, his Del Mar record has been equaled, but never exceeded. It’s a streak of success that might forever stand the test of time.