There we were, in a press conference, chronicling normal euphoria and gathering normal quotes from the winners of the
Until a week or so ago, horse racing knew Espinoza solely as one of the elite jockeys of the sport. He was good enough to win the first two legs of the
Now the sport may start measuring this 5-foot-1 112-pounder in a slightly different way. By the size of his heart.
It all began in a
With Art Sherman and Coburn, it is always more than the norm. They are both a delight — quotable, insightful and fun. But Coburn, a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment — winning the Kentucky Derby with his first horse, that he bred himself — brought up the death of his sister.
"The colt was born on my sister Brenda's birthday," he said. "She died of cancer at age 36. It will be 36 years this year since there was a Triple Crown winner."
Espinoza, one chair away, turned and looked long and hard at Coburn.
"That's when it started," Espinoza said late last week.
Minutes later, in answer to a question that had everything to do with racing and nothing to do with cancer, a clearly shaken Espinoza made an uncharacteristic departure into the emotional.
"I just want to mention one thing," he said. "I've always been for all the cancer people. I support that. One day, I went to the
Now Coburn was reaching over to console Espinoza.
"It's OK. It's OK. Believe me, it's OK," Coburn said.
Espinoza wasn't finished.
"I never cry. I only cry for this thing," he said, adding that he hoped his Kentucky Derby victory, and its corresponding enhanced winnings, would help the kids at City of Hope.
Some of that made the papers the next day, but it understandably got lost in the normal post-Derby news.
Still, it cried out for elaboration, explanation.
That came last week, with Espinoza sitting at his locker in the jockeys' room at Santa Anita, the interview interrupted frequently and happily by a parade of his peers, little men in colored silks, teasing him in Spanish and keeping him humble. You can win the Kentucky Derby 10 straight times and you'll still get needled.
"It started about 10 years ago," Espinoza began. "I have a friend, an older man. I won't tell you his name because he is a private person. He started with nothing and is a millionaire. He has kids. I'm not married and don't have kids.
"We go to lunch a lot. One day, he says we should do something, that we should go to City of Hope. I don't know what City of Hope is.
"We walk in and I can't stay. I see kids with no hair, other stuff. I was only in there maybe two minutes, if that. I went back out to the car and sat and waited for him."
He repeated his line from the press conference, that he never cries.
"I cried then too," he said.
Soon, he had quietly made his 10% pledge. There is a chance that, until that press conference at Churchill Downs — and maybe to this day — people at City of Hope had no idea where the checks were coming from.
"I do it through my bookkeeper, and my corporation," Espinoza said. "My name's not on it. Sometimes, he sends them monthly, sometimes every couple of months. Last year, we sent them every week.
"Sometimes, I forget to pay my bills, but I never forget about City of Hope."
If Espinoza isn't exaggerating, which would not be his style, the donations could have added up nicely. The numbers will remain private because that best serves both the sender and the receiver. Besides, as Espinoza said, he isn't sure. The 10% was probably an estimate and he said his only desire is to keep them coming, in whatever size.
For speculation's sake, if we look at this year, his mounts have earned about $5 million. His jockey's 10% share of that would be $500,000, and a 10% donation of that would be $50,000. And it is only May.
On Tuesday, Espinoza is scheduled to return to City of Hope. He has been asked to do so by TV. It will likely be one of those cooked-up-for-TV, cue-the-violins things to be shown on
It will be the first time Espinoza has been back since his first trip 10 years ago. And it could turn out to be must-see TV.