By Richard Roseblatt
Victor Espinoza will have a chance for an unprecedented three-peat in the Kentucky Derby, after all.
The jockey who won the Derby with California Chrome in 2014 and with eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015 has landed aboard long shot Whitmore, Espinoza’s agent, Brian Beach, said Wednesday.
The Derby at Churchill Downs is May 7.
With regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. committed to Derby contender My Man Sam, Whitmore trainer Ron Moquett opted for Espinoza. He’s a three-time Derby winner who guided American Pharoah to the first Triple Crown in 37 years by winning the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Espinoza also won the Derby aboard War Emblem in 2002.
Whitmore finished third in the Arkansas Derby and second in the Rebel Stakes in his last two starts.
The 43-year-old Espinoza is one of six riders who have won consecutive Derbys. The others are Isaac Murphy (1890-91), Jimmy Winkfield (1901-02), Ron Turcotte (1972-73), Eddie Delahoussaye (1982-83) and Calvin Borel (2009-10).
“This horse runs the turns well and has won at Churchill — two important Derby factors,” Espinoza said, noting Whitmore’s win in his first career start was at Churchill Downs. “I’m excited to have the mount.”
And somewhat lucky. Espinoza wasn’t aboard many contenders during the Derby prep season, and currently ranks 65th on the jockey earnings list. Through April 26, he has ridden 14 winners from 100 starts. He also rode California Chrome to victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
Espinoza will visit Whitmore for the first time on Tuesday, and won’t climb aboard until it’s time to Run for the Roses.
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