Espinoza on ride of his life with California Chrome

Thu Jun 5, 2014 1:57pm EDT
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By Julian Linden

NEW YORK (Reuters) - As the jockey of Triple Crown contender California Chrome, Victor Espinoza already knows he is on the ride of his life.

One triumphant lap around the enormous Belmont Park track in New York on Saturday is all that stands between him and a place in racing folklore.

If California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes, the 42-year-old Espinoza will be immortalized along with his mount as the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

But for the quietly-spoken Mexican, the final 1 1/2-miles (2,400 meters) ahead of him pales in comparison to the long journey he traveled just to get there.

The son of a Mexican goat farmer, Espinoza was terrified of horses when he was a young child but learnt to ride on a donkey, which, purely by coincidence, is the emblem on California Chrome's racing silks.

He soon graduated to riding horses and when he was a teenager, got himself a fake ID to get a job as a bus driver in Mexico City.

To make ends meet, he took out a jockey's license and began racing horses on weekends. He proved a natural in the saddle, winning his first ever race and suddenly he was off and running.

In 1993, he moved to California and slowly worked his way up through the riding ranks.   Continued...