While the world will find out in less than three weeks if this year is the charm for jockey Victor Espinoza as he is scheduled to try for a third time to complete a Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), one thing is clear: Espinoza cannot wait to return to Belmont Park with Zayat Stables homebred American Pharoah.
June 6 will mark the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes. Known as the “Test of the Champion” for its 1 1/2-mile distance, the Belmont has twice eluded Espinoza with two previous Triple Crown contenders: War Emblem in 2002, and California Chrome in 2014.
Espinoza, a native of Mexico who will turn 43 on May 21, is acutely aware of the past challenges wrought by the Belmont’s vast distance for a horse entered off two previous classic victories.
“Unfortunately, when I get there with the horses that I’ve been coming back, they seem to get a little tired when they get to the Belmont,” said Espinoza. Though he will be the first jockey to have a third chance at winning the Triple Crown, his previous shortfalls have not dampened his spirits.
“My times there have been down, but I don’t want to give up. I come this year with a different mind now,” he said. “It’s not easy, but American Pharoah, if he can do it, I’m there.”
The three-time Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner lauded the track surface at Belmont Park.
“It’s is an amazing track, there’s plenty of room in there,” he said. “For me, I always love tracks like Belmont with that long stretch and the horses seem to like it.”
Espinoza beamed while discussing his impending return to the Big Apple.
“New York is awesome,” he said. “It’s just an amazing city.”