From Louisville to Letterman to London, Victor Espinoza is piling up the Frequent Flyer mileage.
Recently back from the Triple Crown trail where he captured the first two jewels aboard the dragon-slaying California Chrome, only to miss in the Belmont Stakes, the 42-year-old jockey leaves for merry old England tomorrow to ride for the first time at the Royal Ascot meet starting Tuesday and running five days through next Saturday.
He took a moment before departing to reflect on his storybook journey with California Chrome, who sought to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner but finished in a dead-heat for fourth in the Belmont after daylight triumphs in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
“It was a great run for me and California Chrome,” Espinoza said. “He’s still my favorite. He ran a big race in the Belmont. Now that I’m back at Santa Anita, I was able to return to my normal routine for a couple of days before going to England.”
Second-guessers had their moment in the sun after the Belmont loss, but as is his wont, Espinoza took shots to the bow in stride.
“I think a lot of things went against him,” Espinoza said of California Chrome, who was unbeaten in six straight races with Espinoza up before the Belmont. “He was probably overwhelmed by the Belmont. I believe he still could have won if he hadn’t been kicked on his (right front) foot. That’s very painful for a horse.
“It may not seem like it, but that’s a tough spot to suffer a cut. It wasn’t easy to run well after what happened to him. You can make as many excuses as you want, but I really think it affected him. He didn’t get beat that far, either. Two lengths, that’s it.”
For now, Chromania is on the back burner, but both horse and jockey will live to fight another day. Tonight, Espinoza will make the coin toss at the Honda Center where the LA Kiss, whose owners include Gene Simmons of the fabled rock group, KISS, plays Portland at 7 p.m.
The game and the ceremony will be telecast by KCAL-9.
California Chrome is taking a welcome breather and not expected to race again until perhaps a month or so in front of the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will be run for the third consecutive year on the colt’s favorite track, Santa Anita, where he won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 5 in advance of his glorious triumph in the Run for the Roses.
Until then, it’s hi-yo, Victor, away!