California Chrome took home the Kentucky Derby to complete the first leg of the elusive Triple Crown, and jockey Victor Espinoza is critical to Chrome's chances at winning the 139th Preakness Stakes and completing the second leg.
Espinoza was key in leading Chrome to a victory at the Kentucky Derby. Chrome delivered a victory by 1 3/4 lengths, but his lead was much larger heading down the final stretch. Seeing that no other horse was close enough to best Chrome, Espinoza wisely held his horse back.
The two easily strode across the finish line for the win. It didn't matter by how much the duo won. All that mattered was that Chrome and Espinoza were in the winners' circle at the most prestigious event in horse racing.
Not running Chrome into the ground during that final stretch was a wise move for Espinoza. You never know what could happen if you push a horse too hard, and maintaining this horse's health for their Triple Crown run is key.
He managed Chrome the entire race. I start with the final stretch because it is what everyone paid attention to at the end, but Espinoza was a brilliant jockey during the entirety of the event.
Chrome was kept just behind the leaders early on in an effort to conserve the horse's stamina and keep track of the pace of the lead horses. Once Espinoza saw an opening in the final portion of the race, though, he and Chrome capitalized and posted a lead of nearly five full lengths. That's when he wisely pulled the horse back and coasted across the line.
Espinoza is no stranger to riding Triple Crown favorites. If his performance atop Chrome didn't prove it, ESPN Stats & Info's Twitter account did:
Victor Espinoza is now 2-0 riding the favorite in Triple Crown races -- won as favorite with War Emblem in 2002 Preakness.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 3, 2014
Espinoza has yet to lose in five races on California Chrome. They've done it with a rare chemistry between a jockey and a thoroughbred. Espinoza remembers the first time he saw the horse at Del Mar in California.
Chrome took his breath away.
"It was like when a beautiful woman walks in the room," he said.
This stat, along with the chemistry Espinoza and Chrome share, is what should make you confident in Chrome heading into the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Espinoza is (and always has been) the key to Chrome's successes. The horse is fast and is a skilled racer, but that all starts with Espinoza's excellent skills as a jockey.