Victor Espinoza (born May 23, 1972) is a jockey in American Thoroughbred horse racing. He began riding in his native Mexico and went on to compete at racetracks in California. He has won the Kentucky Derby three times, riding War Emblem in 2002, California Chrome in 2014, and American Pharoah in 2015.
He also won the Preakness Stakes three times, riding War Emblem in 2002 California Chrome in 2014 and American Pharoah in 2015. As of May 2015, he is the first jockey in history to enter the Belmont Stakes with a third opportunity to win the Triple Crown.
Victor was born on a dairy farm in Hidalgo, Mexico, the eleventh of twelve children. He and his brother José, his senior by three years, enjoyed riding horses on the farm; when he was 15 he traveled to Cancún to assist his brother as a Quarter Horse trainer. He paid for jockey school by driving a bus in Mexico City at age 17. Within a few years, Victor was racing thoroughbreds at Mexico City’s track, Hipódromo de las Américas. His first winner there was in 1992.
Victor then moved to Northern California, where by 1994 he was the leading apprentice rider at the Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields racetracks. A year later, he moved his tack to Los Angeles. His big break came in 2000 when he won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff aboard Spain. He rode his first Kentucky Derby in 2001, placing third on Congaree, and in 2002 he won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes atop War Emblem.
Between 2000 and 2006 he averaged 193 wins a year and twice finished third in total earnings among jockeys. However, his career entered a slump until he decided to refocus. As he explained, “One day, I woke up and I said, ‘This is not how I’m going to end up my career.'” He hired a new agent in January 2013, Brian Beach, and with a change in motivation, went on to obtain his 3,000th career win, aboard Flashy Delight, on May 31, 2013, at Betfair Hollywood Park in Inglewood, California.
After winning the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes on California Chrome, in June of 2014 Victor traveled to Britain to win the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot on the Wesley A. Ward-trained colt Hootenanny.
He has since ridden American Pharoah to win the 2015 Kentucky Derby, the 2015 Preakness Stakes, and now the 2015 Belmont Stakes for the first Triple Crown victory since Affirmed and Steve Cauthen did it back in 1978.
With thousands of wins under his belt, hundreds of Graded Stakes accolades, and now a historical Triple Crown victory, Victor Espinoza has arguably become the best jockey in horse racing history.
Victor is not only a legend who’s won the hearts of horse racing fans around the world, but one who will go down in the horse racing history as a gentle giant who changed the sport forever.