The 2015 runner-up dominated as soon as the challengers hit the finishing straight in front of the rapturous Meydan Racecourse’s main stand.
But triple Crown-winning jockey Espinoza, 43, had to use all his experience to guide the colt home last night before disaster could have struck. This charge left second-placed Mubtaahij and third-placed Hoppertunity trailing in the 2014 US Horse of the Year’s wake.
“I was very nice and comfortable out there,” said Espinoza. “He did everything right and he went exactly where we wanted – it was perfect. It is sometimes better to be on the outside rather than stuck inside.
“I sat near the leaders and I couldn’t wait longer when we were coming for home as the saddle was slipping further and further back.
“I couldn’t take any chances, so I had to go. I know it (the saddle) was really far back, but I wasn’t paying attention. Only after I crossed the line did I have a look.”
The evening was full of redemption for California Chrome, whose run on the outside in 2015 saw the hot favourite fade and lose out to Prince Bishop. He stayed in the pack this time before sprinting clear in impressive fashion with 300 metres left. His difficulties were exemplified by his long-delayed post-race interview, as Espinoza and race stewards fiddled with his disintegrating seat.
“I was thinking about this for the whole year,” co-owner Perry Martin said. “I am just so happy.”
Veteran trainer Art Sherman is credited with more than 2,100 wins during his lengthy career.
He was hired to control yesterday’s headline maker in 2013, previous highlights of his reign including the 2014 Kentucky Derby victory.
Sherman paid tribute to Espinoza’s nerveless ride and outstanding technique, saying it was one of the most impressive he’d ever seen.
He said: “He did a fabulous job. I rode for 23 years and when your saddle slips, it makes you kind of move backwards on the horse. You have to really have good balance and control of your horse. I didn’t realise how bad it was until he pulled up. I am so happy to come back and see the look on everyone’s face.”
Espinoza was the man in the saddle 12 months ago when disappointment was the overriding emotion. Despite again starting out wide in stall 11 and the horse coming back from a worrying bruised cannon bone, he cruised through for his first piece of World Cup glory.
He said: “I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has followed me and the team for keeping on the horse’s tail. I know it is not easy but they chose the right jockey to win the race. I’ve been very close twice before, 2nd (with Chrome in 2015) and 3rd (on Choctaw Nation in 2005), so third time is the charm.”