Espinoza off to nice start at Santa Anita

Victor Espinoza, who’s won six Southern California riding titles but none since the 2006-07 Santa Anita meet when he tied Garrett Gomez for the crown, is out of the gate quickly after the first three days of Santa Anita’s 75th anniversary season.

Espinoza, a 37-year-old native of Mexico City, has five victories through the first three days of the 83-day meet, tied for the top spot with Rafael Bejarano, who is trying to become the first jockey since Laffit Pincay Jr. in 1979-81 to win three consecutive Santa Anita riding titles.

Espinoza had a riding triple on opening day, including a victory in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort Stakes aboard The Usual Q.T., and has three stakes victories already. He rode Macias to victory in the $72,150 Eddie Logan Stakes on Monday after scoring aboard Evening Jewel in the $100,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes for juvenile fillies on Sunday.

“I’ve been working really hard to get my business together for this meet and it’s great to get off to a good start like this on opening day,” Espinoza said after his victory aboard The Usual Q.T.

Espinoza is a solid rider who sometimes gets lost in a SoCal jockey colony that is the toughest in the nation, what with Bejarano, Gomez and Joel Rosario riding here regularly and other young riders like Joe Talamo, Tyler Baze and Martin Garcia also in the mix. Toss in veterans like Mike Smith, Alex Solis and Martin Pedroza, and you get the picture about the quality of the competition these guys face each day.

Talamo, who doesn’t turn 20 until Jan. 12, could turn out to be the best of the bunch.

Espinoza, while not winning a riding title this year, has enjoyed a solid season. He finished in a tie for seventh with Talamo with 42 victories last winter at Santa Anita, was third with 44 wins during Hollywood Park’s spring-summer meet, wound up fifth at Del Mar with 27 victories and finished tied for fifth with Gomez at the Hollypark autumn meet with 14 wins. His worst meet of the year came at Oak Tree, where he wound up ninth.

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