Espinoza, 31, will fill the slot for a U.S.-based jockey. Last year the Mexican-born rider won the first two legs of the Triple Crown aboard War Emblem."I'm really looking forward to riding in Hong Kong for the International Jockeys' Championship and I'm thankful to be invited," Espinoza said to Hong Kong Jockey Club officials by telephone. "It is a great privilege. You know, I have made a lot of friends from Hong Kong here in America and they have all told me about the racing at Happy Valley and Sha Tin and I can't wait to see what it's like."I'm also excited about taking the mount on Sarafan in the Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) because he didn't like the soft track in the Japan Cup last weekend and he didn't have a hard race at all. I believe he is more likely to get a firmer track in Hong Kong."
Gary Tanaka's Sarafan, fourth in the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup last year is a grade I winner in the U.S. He was entered for the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita but was scratched. The 6-year-old Lear Fan gelding finished 17th in last week's Japan Cup (Jpn-I) for trainer Neil Drysdale.
Espinoza made his big breakthrough in 2000 with a Breeders' Cup win on Spain in the Distaff (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, and since has ridden 12 grade I winners and has won six Southern California riding titles. He finished second in the World Super Jockeys Series 2001 at Hanshin in Japan. In 2003 he has ridden more than 190 winners and his mounts have earned in excess of $9 million.Meanwhile, Olivier Peslier replaces Mirco Demuro, with the Italian champion currently serving a suspension. Peslier, 32, is invited having won the inaugural IJC in 1998.
"It's a great honor for me to take part in the International Jockeys' Championship again and I will be doing my best to win it once more," he said. "It is always a very special occasion."
Peslier has been the leading rider in France four times. He has been successful and popular in Hong Kong in the past winning the Hong Kong Vase (HK-I) twice (Partipral 1995, Borgia 1999) and the Hong Kong Mile (HK-I) on Docksider (1999).
The Frenchman has won 34 group/grade I races--including three victories in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I). He has also won the Epsom Derby (Eng-I), Irish Derby (Ire-I), Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), and Japan Cup (Jpn-I).
For the IJC, jockeys are randomly allocated their mounts. The winner will be the one accumulating the most points during three races carrying a prize-money bonus of 30%.
For each of the three races there are 12 points awarded to the winning jockey; six points to the runner-up, four points to the third-place finisher; three points to the fourth; and two points to the fifth.
The champion is the jockey with the highest total points and his reward will be HK$200,000 ($25,760), with HK$100,000 ($12,880) going to the runner-up.