Victor Espinoza continues his winning ways…
The 43-year-old Mexican jockey, who was named Best Jockey at this year’s ESPY Awards, gave American Pharoah a slight nudge to take control and lead the majestic colt to victory at the Haskell Invitational, delivering an encore performance in his first race since winning the Triple Crown.
“This horse, he just keeps bringing it,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He’s just a great horse.”
With a record crowd of 60,983 cheering him on Sunday at Monmouth Park, American Pharoah came out of the final turn with a clear lead and cruised to a 2¼-length victory while Espinoza barely moved a muscle.
“He ran like a champ,” Espinoza said.
After winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the 12th Triple Crown winner and first in 37 years, American Pharoah’s return was greatly anticipated.
Fifty-seven days after the Belmont, the 3-year-old son of Pioneer of the Nile looked better than ever in his eighth consecutive victory.
“That was nerve-racking,” Baffert said after his eighth win in the Haskell, five more than any other trainer. “I was getting pretty nervous.”
“No clue,” owner Ahmed Zayat said when asked about his colt’s next race. “We’re going to enjoy this moment.”
If all goes according to plan, American Pharoah will run his final race in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, on October 31. Then he’s headed down the road to the breeding shed at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud.
A few minutes after Bruce Springsteen‘s “Born to Run” blared over the speakers as the horses walked onto the track, American Pharoah broke well from post No. 4. But it was Competitive Edge who took the lead. Espinoza kept his horse in second until the far turn. And then, American Pharoah took off and was all alone in the stretch.
The final margin was deceptive because Espinoza never asked American Pharoah to run any harder than necessary.
“It was pretty easy,” said Espinoza, who is unbeaten in eight races as American Pharoah’s jockey. “For me the key was just coming out of there running. I knew that other horse would want to take the lead, so I sat back just a little bit. I never like to go head and head with another horse, so I sat back maybe half a length behind. He did everything by himself. It was pretty easy, pretty impressive.”
American Pharoah followed many of his Triple Crown colleagues by winning his first start after three grueling races in five weeks. Of the 11 others, seven won in their return and one, Count Fleet, was retired after the 1943 Belmont with an injury.
American Pharoah opened his career with a loss before reeling off eight in a row — seven of them Grade 1 races. With the $1.1 million payday in the Haskell, his career earnings soared to $5.6 million.