John Clay: Derby victory no gold mine for California Chrome's jockey

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 16, 2014 

  • Preakness Stakes

    What: Second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown | When: 6:18 p.m. Saturday | Where: Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore | Purse: $1.5 million | TV: NBC-18 | Radio: WLXO-FM 96.1

BALTIMORE — You would think Brian Beach barely has a moment's peace, right, what with assorted trainers blowing up his cellphone with inquiries about hiring the jockey agent's celebrated client.

After winning the Kentucky Derby for a second time, Victor Espinoza has more mounts than he can count, right?

"You know, it's funny," said Beach having found refuge from the Friday morning rain as he stood inside a tent next to the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course. "I've been asked that a couple of times and they really haven't (been calling)."

In fact, as Espinoza and California Chrome prepare for Saturday's Preakness, the jockey had picked up just one new post-Derby ride, a mount in Saturday's Dixie Stakes for Dale Romans.

"Dale told me he remembers seeing Victor ride only a couple a day at Ellis Park," Beach said, "so he called me and said it was good to see that he was doing well and would he ride for him in the Dixie? That's maybe the only horse we've picked up."

It's an odd business, horse racing.

"You're only as good as your last winner," Beach said.

Tell that to Calvin Borel, who might be the most famous jockey in the United States thanks to his three Kentucky Derby wins — Street Sense in 2007, Mine That Bird in 2009, Super Saver in 2010 — in a span of four years.

However, as soon as the starting gate opened in this year's Derby, Borel steered Ride On Curlin on a direct path from his No. 19 post position to a dead-last spot on the (Bo-)rail, and trainer Billy Gowan blew his top. Ride On Curlin wound up seventh and Borel wound up fired. Ride On Curlin will carry Joel Rosario in the Preakness. Borel will be piloting the filly Ria Antonia.

"The worst thing that ever happened in this business was when the Racing Form started publishing (winning) percentages for jockeys and trainers," said Beach, who has been the agent for Mike Smith, Gary Stevens, Kent Desormeaux and Alex Solis before hooking up with Espinoza about 18 months ago. "You now have owners that won't ride a jockey if his percentage is below a certain number. You have owners that won't hire a trainer if their percentage is lower than what they think it should be. So everybody is on the hot seat."

Espinoza's percentage on Chrome is perfection. Five rides, five wins. You may already know the story. Espinoza saw Chrome as a 2-year-old and asked Beach to try to score him the mount — something Espinoza rarely does. Time passed. The training father-and-son duo of Art and Alan Sherman finally called. Then they made history.

As for the nitpickers harping on Chrome's slow Derby-winning time, Beach said that Espinoza told him right after the race that Chrome didn't like the Churchill Downs track. The jockey had to make Chrome switch leads turning for home, something he never had to do previously. By all reports, Chrome has been gliding over the Pimlico surface.

But what about the cough? Breaking news Thursday claimed Chrome had a terrible cough — "I got a call from Santa Anita saying they heard my horse had been scratched," said Art Sherman on Friday — which turned out to be a blister that has now been successfully treated with a throat wash.

"Throat? What throat?" said Espinoza on Friday morning.

"I talked to Alan Sherman yesterday and I talked to him this morning and he said it's nothing," Beach said. "It just got blown out of proportion."

Sort of like the notion that the jockey who wins the Kentucky Derby has the world at his feet. It didn't happen for Espinoza when he won the 2002 Derby aboard War Emblem and Beach doesn't expect it to happen now.

"We kind of have our people, the other people have their riders. There's not a lot of switching around," Beach said. "I sent some texts and made some calls to (Todd) Pletcher, Mike Maker, Chad Brown, those guys. I wasn't able to move any of those guys off their horses.

"In a perfect world, your phone would be ringing off the hook and you could go get any mount you wanted. Every agent hopes for that."

In horse racing, there's no such thing as a perfect world, even for those who give perfect rides.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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