Let’s be honest, most of us don’t know anything about Thoroughbred horse races – let alone what the pedigree of a “Thoroughbred” actually is. So the fact that Latin American and Latino jockeys have been dominating the most important Thoroughbred horse racing competitions for a while now has probably been flying under most of our radars. In the last five editions of these competitions, three Latin American Jockeys won at the Belmont Stakes; four emerged as victors at the Preakness Stakes; and five jockeys in the Kentucky Derby were Latin American.
In fact, just last Saturday Victor Espinoza, a 42-year-old man from Hidalgo, Mexico, mounted a horse named American Pharaoh and won the 140th edition of the Preakness Stakes for the second year in a row. This race, which takes place at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, forms part of the Triple Crown, which includes the three most important Thoroughbred horse races in the United States: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
Espinoza started from the bottom. And now he’s here.
Espinoza is also a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby. Last Saturday’s win puts him in a very exciting position; if he wins the Belmont Stakes on June 6th, he will become the 13th jockey in history to win the Triple Crown; the first one since 1995, and the first one since 1978 to do so mounted on the same horse.
The feat, however, will not be easy. Espinoza was in the exact same position last year, but finished tied for fourth place. The loss was a huge disappointment, but like they say, la vida da revanchas, and in two weeks, Espinoza will have another golden opportunity.
Espinoza’s story is one of exceptional achievement. The eleventh of twelve children born on a dairy farm in Mexico, he is one of the seven jockeys to have won three Kentucky Derbies, and one in six to have done so in back-to-back editions – achievements that will most surely get him into the Hall of Fame.
When he won this year’s Kentucky Derby, Espinoza stated he felt “like the luckiest Mexican on Earth.” And how could he not? After driving a bus in Mexico City in order to pay for jockey school, and also working at a metal factory and as a stable keeper, he’s really made some strides. Espinoza really started from the bottom. And now he’s here.
Espinoza however, is not the only Latino jockey with notable achievements. In 2011, Puerto Rican John Velazquez won “the Run of the Roses” (a title commonly given to the Kentucky Derby) and the year afterwards won the Belmont Stakes. In 2013, Dominican jockey Joel Rosario did the exact same thing, winning the Kentucky Derby that year and the Belmont Stakes the next. Mario Gutierrez, a 27-year-old jockey from Veracruz, won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness stakes in 2012, but was unable to compete for the Triple Crown due to his horse’s leg-injury.
Espinoza will have some tough competition in the last of the Triple Crown races. Belmont Stakes in fact, is a race he has never won. We can only wait to see what new things will be written in Thoroughbred Horse Racing history.
New champions will surely emerge and previous ones will consolidate themselves, but whatever happens, we can be sure that Latino jockeys will be present in both categories.