Victor Espinoza’s return to racing remains on hold

Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza does physical therapy on Aug. 15 at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas. Espinoza fractured his C3 vertebrae in a training accident at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in July.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jockey Victor Espinoza’s hoped-for return to racing remained on hold this week when doctors, while pleased at his recovery, said they believed that it was best if he spent more time recovering from a broken neck.

Espinoza was hopeful that he would be cleared to resume riding soon but lingering issues with his left arm and the severity of his racing accident have kept him off the track since July 22.

“Both my neurosurgeon Dr. [Frank] Coufal and my neurologist Dr. [Mary] Kalafut are pleased with the course of my recovery from my spinal cord injury as well as the injury to the vertebral artery,” Espinoza said. “I want to come back to ride again and would love to be back by the time Santa Anita opens in late December.


“I’m still dealing with issues in my left arm and so my return to riding won’t happen until I’m 100% ready to go.”

Espinoza was riding Bobby Abu Dhabi in a morning workout at Del Mar when the horse collapsed, throwing Espinoza to the ground. It was initially thought that the horse suffered a heart attack but a necropsy reported that he broke his right front leg and hit the ground so hard that he also broke his back, killing him in seconds.

Espinoza suffered a fractured C3 vertebra and was initially paralyzed but has since regained full use of all his limbs, though he still is having difficulties with his left arm. Espinoza spend a total of 12 days in either the hospital or a rehabilitation facility. Once he went home, he needed 24-hour care and could not feed, dress or bathe himself.

“I want to say thank you to everyone that has sent cards and letters,” he said. “I very much appreciate all of the kind words.”

Espinoza was elected to the racing hall of fame last year, two years after winning the Triple Crown aboard American Pharoah. He was also the regular rider for California Chrome. He has won seven Triple Crown races, including the Kentucky Derby three times.

His next start will be his 22,000th. He has 3,358 wins, and his horses have earned almost $198 million.

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