Victor Espinoza rides Ce Ce to upset in Breeders Cup’ Filly and Mare Sprint

Victor Espinoza celebrates after riding Ce Ce to victory during the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Del Mar.
Victor Espinoza celebrates after riding Ce Ce to victory during the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Del Mar on Saturday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Hall of fame jockey Victor Espinoza, 49, hasn’t been on top of the Breeders’ Cup stage in a while, not since he won the Classic with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015. He’s struggled of late, his number of mounts dropping from almost 500 a year to just over 100.

But the only mistake he made Saturday winning the $1-million Filly and Mare Sprint while aboard Ce Ce was when he got down from the riser in the post-race news conference. Excuse the expression, but he took a bad step. Espinoza nearly went to the ground, but he bounced back flashing the trademark smile that has marked his almost three-decade career.

Ce Ce, running for Mike McCarthy, pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the day defeating Gamine, last year’s winner of this seven-furlong race. Ce Ce rallied from fourth in the five-horse field to win by 2½ lengths. She paid $14.40 to win.

Knicks Go defeated 3-year-old race favorites Medina Sprit, Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar.


Espinoza was at the Breeders’ Cup to ride three horses, which became two when Express Train scratched out of the Classic. Astronaut finished 12th of 14 in the Turf.

“Yeah, my career’s been up and down,” Espinoza said. “Nevertheless, I’ve been down below and I never gave up. And sometimes you hit the ground, but no matter how hard you hit it, when you stand up, you stand up big. And I feel great right now, it’s really special, because the last Breeders’ Cup [win] was American Pharoah. In between I had a little bit of rough accident and other stuff.”

The accident was in July of 2018 when during a workout, Bobby Abu Dhabi broke down, sending Espinoza to the dirt, where he was temporarily paralyzed. After extensive rehabilitation, he returned to riding six months later.

“I don’t think about what happened in the past, the past is past,” Espinoza said. “I’m looking to the future to see how far my body will take me. … I can’t tell you if I’m better than before or as good as before [the accident]. When I win a Breeders’ Cup race, it’s beyond exciting because I’m doing it for those that supported me during my down times. Loyalty pays off in the long run.”

Espinoza was referring to trainers John Shirreffs and McCarthy.

“John Shirreffs is super, super loyal to me and has been since I moved to California [in the early 1990s],” Espinoza said. “We’ve been successful in the good times and the bad times. … And also, Mike McCarthy. He’s one of the best and top trainers and he really cares about his horses, and that’s why his horses run for him.”

Ce Ce’s win wasn’t the only race where a heavy favorite went down to defeat. In the $2-million Sprint, Aloha West (24.60 to win) ran past Jackie’s Warrior and caught Dr. Schivel to win the seven-furlong race by a nose.

“He was giving me a great run, but I didn’t know if I would get there,” winning jockey Jose Ortiz said. “He put his head right on the wire. I was about 60% sure I won.”

Life Is Good ($3.40) had perhaps the most dominant performance by winning the $1-million Dirt Mile by 5¾ lengths under a ride from Irad Ortiz Jr. The 3-year-old missed the Kentucky Derby trail when he was injured earlier in the year and has won five of six starts.

“We were hoping for that [performance] based on the way he’s been training,” said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. “He took it to them. Just too much horse.”

Corniche easily won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar and became the early Kentucky Derby favorite at Churchill Downs, where Bob Baffert is banned.

Marche Lorraine ($101.80) became the second Japanese horse to win Saturday with an upset in the $2-million distaff. Loves Only You ($10.60) was the other Japanese import to win, taking the $2-million Filly and Mare Turf.

“I tried to ignore her odds and give her every chance in the run and hope she could finish off,” said winning jockey Oisin Murphy. “And to be honest, we were obviously a hostage to fortune. I sat back and they went quite quick. So, we needed them to do that, but it was a brilliant performance.”

Other winners were Golden Pal ($7.00) in the $1-million Turf Sprint, Space Blues ($6.20) in the $2-million (Turf) Mile and Yibir ($19.00) in the $4-million Turf.