California Chrome’s jockey Victor Espinoza hasn’t been losing any sleep over his bid to win Saturday’s Belmont Stakes and to become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.
The 3-5 early favorite said, “No, I have trouble waking up in the morning.”
With more than 100,000 fans expected at the park and more than 16 million TV viewers tuning in, Espinoza is ready for race day. In an interview earlier this week before he learned he would have the No. 2 post, Espinoza said, “I always believe in getting a lucky number. This time, I’m not really looking for a specific number. With a mile and a half, I have plenty of time to get into position and take my time. It’s a long race.”
Although California Chrome sometimes likes to call the shots, Espinoza said he will take full control. “He’s an amazing horse because he loves to run. What I discovered about him is when I go to the track and get on, he likes to look around. He’s really curious. He wants to know who’s there. If I want him to go a certain way, it completely changes his attitude. His muscles start to get bigger and his veins come out. He doesn’t like that. What I do is just leave him alone. If he wants to stand, he just stands. He can look left or right,” he said. “But a minute before we go into the gate, I am going to let him know, ‘It’s time to perform. It’s time to work.’ The way I grab the reins I let him know I’m in control. No more playing around — now it’s my way and that’s it.”
He continued, “Animals are amazing. They’re really smart like humans. They know when it’s time. Sometimes they don’t listen and they’re like, ‘Forget about it. I’m going to do it my way.’ But he’s cool. He’s very nice, really a mellow horse.’”
The camaraderie among his fellow jockeys also vanishes in the locker room just before the race. “It’s kind of crazy because all your enemies are around you. But normally, they’re all your friends. But when you go inside the gate, that’s it, you change. Your best friends are not your friends when you walk out,” he said. “It’s probably the only sport where we are together in the locker room but we don’t play as a team. No other sport is like that.”
As of now, Espinoza plans to fly back to his Sierra Madre home Sunday, but there are always other flights. “My plan is to leave Sunday. It all depends how it goes,” he said. “But I’m ready for the best or the worst. We’ll see how it goes.”