- ESPINOZA; ‘TRIPLE’ SWEEP MEMORIES ARE FOREVER
- CAN KING CAUSE GIVE O’NEILL LAZ BARRERA UPSET?
- NAKATANI IS BACK ON BOLT D’ORO FOR PREAKNESS
TRIPLE CROWN PURSUIT ‘BEST EXPERIENCE,’ ESPINOZA SAYS
Now that Justify vanquished 19 foes in the Kentucky Derby, the racing world has turned its probing eyes on next Saturday’s Preakness Stakes and beyond, mulling mightily whether the undefeated Santa Anita Derby winner can become the 13th Triple Crown hero and the second in four years trained by Bob Baffert, joining 2015 champion American Pharoah.
One well-qualified expert on whether Justify can accomplish the feat would be jockey Victor Espinoza, who piloted American Pharoah to his Triple Crown sweep and who captured the first two jewels in 2002 on War Emblem and again in 2014 aboard California Chrome.
Riding Bolt d’Oro in last Saturday’s Derby, Espinoza pushed front-running Justify for almost a mile before running out of horse, eventually winding up 12th.
On a misty Friday morning at Santa Anita, trainer Eddie Truman called Espinoza’s performance “the best ride in the Derby. He got the horse out of the gate well, got a good position and had him right where he should have been. What a ride!”
But alas, it wasn’t enough. Espinoza, however, still has vivid memories of his three previous Kentucky Derby triumphs, his near-Triple Crown sweeps on War Emblem and California Chrome, and his ultimate conquest on American Pharoah.
“I had the best experience of my life going for the sweep with different horses,” said Hall of Fame member Espinoza, who turns 46 on May 23, and is the only active jockey to win the elusive Triple. “Whatever else happens, there are always the memories. They are there for a lifetime, and never forgotten. No one can take them away from me.
“But anyone who thinks it’s easy to win the Triple Crown is dreaming, because it’s not. Everything has to go right, everything has to go according to schedule, everything has to be perfect. Horses can’t miss a beat, as well as the jockey. He has to be in prime mental and physical shape.
“It takes a team effort: horse, trainer, rider, groom. Even the weather has to cooperate. If not, the opportunity can vanish in a heartbeat, especially for the Kentucky Derby. I believe it’s the toughest race to win, because the intangibles are out of your control.
“Even though it rained all day for this year’s Derby, I thought the track was in great shape and well-maintained to keep the horses safe. Some horses didn’t like the sloppy track, but that’s out of our hands. If a horse doesn’t like the slop, it won’t perform well.”
Espinoza currently does not have a mount for the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course, but would welcome the opportunity.
“I don’t have a horse for the race right now,” Espinoza said, “but I would love to go there to ride. It’s one of my favorite tracks. Obviously, Justify is the outstanding horse in the race and a lot of people probably don’t want to run against him. For him to win the Kentucky Derby like he did under those conditions was pretty amazing.
“He blew the field away, and not just in the stretch. He took control the whole way and that was it.”
In other news:
Corey Nakatani will be reunited with Bolt d’Oro in the Preakness should the colt run. Nakatani rode the son of Medaglia d’Oro in his first four races, winning three, before being replaced by Javier Castellano in the San Felipe Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby, and then Espinoza in the Run for the Roses.
“My dad still believes in the horse,” said Nakatani’s son and agent, Matt. “We’re excited to be back.”
After a nightmarish trip in the Kentucky Derby in which he finished fifth, beaten seven lengths, plans are on hold for stretch-running My Boy Jack.
“We’ll evaluate things over the next few days,” said trainer Keith Desormeaux, who has the Belmont Stakes under consideration for the multiple graded stakes winner of three races from 11 starts, earning $705,145.
“He’s a valuable commodity.
Fans can enjoy a banner Preakness Day next Saturday at Santa Anita, which will offer live music, Michelada flavors and a Michelada Rumble in the Infield, a trackside beer festival, brunch in the FrontRunner, a two-day Preakness betting challenge, the Bud Light Lounge and the Family Fun Zone.
Tickets can be purchased at www.santaanita.com/events. Must be 21 or older.
TEAM O’NEILL HOPES TO KEEP ROLLING WITH KING CAUSE
King Cause broke his maiden in a 23-1 upset April 29 for the red-hot Doug O’Neill barn, which has won with 12 of 40 runners (30 percent) through 15 days of the Spring Meet.
Team O’Neill hopes its streak continues when the gelded son of Creative Cause runs in Saturday’s Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes for three-year-olds at seven furlongs.
“He fooled everybody (winning at 23-1),” said O’Neill assistant Leandro Mora. “But we always liked the horse. He had some maturity and shin issues in the past, but he’s come back well from his maiden win so we decided to try this race.”
Addressing the slow start to the recent Winter Meet in which O’Neill surged late to win 18 races during 60 days, Mora said, “California is known for having droughts, so we were right in there. Hopefully, that’s all behind us now.”
No drought at Santa Anita today. It’s raining.
The Laz Barrera, race five of nine with a 12:30 p.m. first post time: Kanthaka, Flavien Prat, 9-5; Calexman, Alonso Quinonez, 8-1; McKale, Drayden Van Dyke, 2-1; Zulfikhar, Martin Garcia, 5-2; King Cause, Geovanni Franco, 20-1; Bocephus, Stewart Elliott, 30-1; and $2,000 supplemental nominee Beautiful Shot, Kent Desormeaux, 6-1.
LAZ BARRERA WON’T BE EASY FOR CALEXMAN
Calexman, who finished fourth behind Kentucky Derby winner Justify in an overnight race here on March 11, faces considerably softer yet still competitive rivals in the Laz Barrera.
A chestnut son of 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman, Calexman is trained by Vladimir Cerin for principal clients David and Holly Wilson.
“I think he’s a pretty good sprinter,” Cerin said, “but seven-eighths is an elongated sprint, and there’s a ton of speed in the race, so it’s not going to be easy.”
FINISH LINES: Skye Diamonds is back with Bill Spawr at Santa Anita after finishing sixth in the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. The trainer has the $200,000 Great Lady M at Los Alamitos July 7 on the five-year-old mare’s radar, since she won the race last year . . . TVG host/analyst Nick (The Sarge) Hines and XBTV’s Millie Ball will be Tom Quigley‘s guests, Saturday and Sunday, respectively, 11:20 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens . . . Mike Smith has been suspended four days (May 17, 18, 19 and 20) for causing interference on front-running winner Achira, the 4-5 favorite, in Sunday’s eighth race.
|SANTA ANITA STATISTICS|
|(Current Through Thursday, May 10)|
|Drayden Van Dyke||45||8||7||7||18%||49%||$396,258|