The third time was the charm for Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah to the first Triple Crown in 37 years. But the jockey of 20-plus years did not grow up with dreams of racing.
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For Espinoza, his journey into thoroughbred racing was a means of survival. He grew up on a dairy farm in Mexico and paid for jockey school by driving a bus at 17 years old. Now Espinoza, 43, is on top of the sports world.
Espinoza, who donated his Belmont Stakes winnings to cancer research center City of Hope, says he would like the opportunity to ride American Pharoah again this year. He may be “one step away” from retiring, but he is not hanging up his saddle just yet.
Sometimes you have to do what you can to survive. I didn’t think, ‘I’m going to grow up and be a jockey.’ It just happened.
Espinoza spoke to FOXBusiness.com about his career, American Pharoah and the historic victory in the Belmont Stakes. He also offered his advice to aspiring young people.
Here is a transcript of the interview, which has been slightly edited for clarity.
FBN: Will you ride American Pharoah again?
Espinoza: I hope so. I don’t know what the plan is for American Pharoah at this point. The trainer, Bob Baffert, and the Zayats will decide what to do. Wherever he goes, I’d be happy to go.
FBN: You have said California Chrome (a Triple Crown contender in 2014) wasn’t 100% going into the Belmont Stakes. What was different about American Pharoah?
Espinoza: The difference is American Pharoah, he was amazing in the Kentucky Derby, and at the Preakness, he blew the field away. He came out of the race just unbelievable. I think he got stronger after the Kentucky Derby, which is unusual. At the Preakness, it felt like he just was breezing down the lane. When he came to Belmont, I saw his last workout on replay, and he just looked outstanding.
The other difference is California Chrome, when he was in the paddock and walking around the ring, he looked tired. He had his head down. American Pharoah was completely different. I had a feeling that he was ready to go.
The other horses, I feel like they took a step backwards. American Pharoah was stepping up.
FBN: Has American Pharoah taught you anything?
Espinoza: A lot. Every single time I ride him, I learn something new. I’ve been riding 20 years, and I always learn something new with each horse.
FBN: With the Triple Crown in hand, do you see yourself as an ambassador for the sport?
Espinoza: Absolutely. For me, I started from the bottom. To reach these goals, I would encourage every jockey to do the best they can. Things can happen, but you have to work for it. Dedication is the most important thing. You need to have goals. If you have goals, then you don’t stop until you make it. You can’t sit back and relax for a minute and say, “Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow.” I never think about tomorrow. It’s not just because I have to, but I want to do it.
FBN: Given how far you’ve come, what would be your advice to young people?
Espinoza: I encourage every person, not just jockeys, to never give up. You’re going to have ups and downs. When you’re down, you have to get up the next day, forget about the past, and start a brand new day.
I never think about the past. I can’t imagine if I thought last year, “I lost the race, now I’m going to go down.” I forgot about it. You know what, at that moment, I felt like a loser. But the next day, I forgot about it. I started looking for the next Kentucky Derby winner.
That’s why I would encourage every single human being to not just choose what you like. Sometimes you have to do what you can to survive. I didn’t think, “I’m going to grow up and be a jockey.” It just happened. I wanted to have a better life.
I never liked being a jockey, but as my job, I couldn’t sit back and relax.
FOXBusiness.com’s Henry Fernandez contributed to this report.