Jockey Victor Espinoza received a hero's welcome May 18 at Santa Anita Park upon his return from his 1 1/2-length win in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) a day earlier aboard superstar California Chrome .
The Preakness marked the California-bred colt's sixth consecutive victory since teamed with the 41-year-old native of Mexico City, including triumphs in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), and the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II).
Astride Remarkable Moon, Espinoza acknowledged the crowd as track announcer Trevor Denman welcomed him home during post parade for Sunday's second race. California Chrome and Espinoza are to go after the Triple Crown in the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Espinoza, who departed from Baltimore at about 5:30 Sunday morning, touched down at LAX at 11 a.m. PDT and reported for duty at Santa Anita at 12:30 p.m. PDT.
"I'm a little bit tired, but it's good to be back home," said Espinoza. "I went to a steakhouse in Baltimore last night and we had a great time. My brother (recently retired jockey Jose) and his wife and some of our friends were all together. I saw Javier Castellano (who rode Preakness fourth-place finisher General a Rod ) and Alan Garcia (on fifth-place finisher Ring Weekend) there and it was fun.
"I got back to the hotel at about 2 a.m. and at three, I just decided 'Let's go,' so I packed up my stuff and went to the airport. I didn't get any sleep, but I've got good energy. I'll be okay."
When asked if California Chrome had to run harder in the Preakness than ever before, he said, "Yes, it was a hard race for him. It was a very complicated race for me to ride, I had to use my head. The race did not set up easy for us. I was getting a lot of pressure from the outside at the half mile pole, so I had to make my move real early.
"He's just an unbelievable horse and we have three weeks now to get his energy back. If he's able to just run like he can, he's gonna be real tough."
Trained by Art Sherman and owned by his breeders, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, the chestnut colt by Lucky Pulpit would become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner should he win the 1 1/2-mile Belmont on June 7 and its first since Affirmed in 1978. He would also become racing's first California-bred Triple Crown Champion.
Coincidentally, there have been a total of 12 horses since Affirmed who were in a position to win the Triple Crown: Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem, ridden by Espinoza, (2002), Funny Cide, (2003), Smarty Jones , (2004), Big Brown , (2007) and I'll Have Another (2012).