Before Saturday's Belmont Stakes, Victor Espinoza downed an energy drink in the jockeys' room.
"I feel so good and said 'I hope American Pharoah feels like me.' And he did."
Yesterday Espinoza became the 11th jockey and the first since Steve Cauthen in 1978 to ride a Triple Crown winner. The 43-year-old, based in California, just let his majestic colt sprint to the lead, maintain it around the wide expanse of Belmont Park and pull away down the stretch.
"It was just so nice to be on a horse like American Pharoah," Espinoza said. "I'm telling you, on the first turn was the best feeling I ever had."
Those feelings were multiplied by his gesture after the race. The jockey donates 10 percent of his winnings to City of Hope in Duarte, California, near his home. It's a cancer research and treatment center not too distant from where he grew up on a dairy farm in Mexico.
Yesterday, Espinoza said he was donating all of his Belmont Stakes winnings to the charity.
"At the wire, it was like I can't believe this," Espinoza said. "Nevertheless, I win the Triple Crown right now but I don't make any money because I'm donating all the money to City of Hope."
Twice Espinoza had a chance to win the Triple Crown and came up short, the first time on War Emblem, trainer Bob Baffert's horse who stumbled out of the Belmont gate in 2002. Last year he came up short on California Chrome.
American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat was effusive in praise for Espinoza. "This man here, Victor, rode this horse like Bob always told him, you are sitting on a Ferrari," Zayat said.
Espinoza, after his previous two disappointments in the Triple Crown, said he was determined to stay low key in such a high-profile situation.
"I've been here three times. It was not easy for me," said Espinoza.
But with American Pharoah, it was all different and all good.
"I just grabbed the reins and he took off," Espinoza said. "It's just an amazing feeling that you have when it's like 20 yards out of the wire and you are like three or four lengths in front. It's unbelievable."
As Baffert helped prepare American Pharoah in the paddock, he could tell the horse was focused and ready, and was confident that Espinoza would handle him just the way he needed to to bring home the Triple Crown.
"When I saddled him in the paddock, I could tell and I told Victor in the paddock that he was ready," Baffert said. "I told him to go ahead and ride him with confidence and he did. He rode him with extreme confidence. I said to put him on the lead and go for it, and if he doesn't make it don't worry about it. But he just kept rocking and rolling."