As he stood on a stage here Friday morning, newly minted Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza joked that he had “nothing but bad memories” of the town and the historic racetrack.
“Finally, I get to take one good memory today,” Espinoza said.
Jockey Javier Castellano, sitting in the front row, a few feet from Espinoza, laughed, no doubt remembering the 2015 Travers Stakes, where Castellano piloted Keen Ice past Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Espinoza for one of Castellano’s record five victories in Saratoga’s signature race.
The moment was one of many at this year’s National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame induction ceremony encapsulating the dual nature of race riding – jockeys, who share a locker room with their opponents, are at once fierce rivals and friendly colleagues. Three members of that brotherhood were in the metaphorical winner’s circle together, as Castellano, Espinoza, and the late Garrett Gomez took their places in the Hall. The three men were among nine humans and equines enshrined in this year’s induction ceremony at Fasig-Tipton’s Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion.
Castellano, 39, is the four-time reigning Eclipse Award winner, having taken over that title from the retired Ramon Dominguez, who had won it the three previous years. Dominguez, inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, and John Velazquez, inducted in 2012, presented Castellano for induction. All three are perennial leaders on the intensely competitive but tightly knit New York circuit.
“You both are two people that I respect and look up to,” Castellano said. “Johnny, the work you do with the Jockeys’ Guild is amazing. We all thank you for your hard work. Ramon, you have always been someone that I look up to. The respect you have from people throughout the industry is a quality that is not easy to achieve. I appreciate our friendship, and I always look up to you guys.”
Castellano owns the single-season record for mount earnings by a rider at more than $28.1 million in 2015. He ranks fifth all time in career earnings, and his major victories include two editions of the Preakness Stakes – in 2006 aboard the champion Bernardini and this year on Cloud Computing. His other prominent mounts included Hall of Famer Ghostzapper, with whom he won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic to clinch a Horse of the Year title.
Espinoza, 45, piloted American Pharoah to a sweep of the Triple Crown in 2015, the first in 37 years. He was aboard the champion for all but his first start, winning five other Grade 1 events with him, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Espinoza was also the regular rider of two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome, who won the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and 2016 Dubai World Cup, and 2002 Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem. After recapping those highlights, Espinoza offered advice to aspiring riders.
“For all you young jockeys who are coming in, never give up,” he said.
The absence of Gomez, who died in December at age 44, was keenly felt.
“This is a little hard,” the jockey’s father, Louie Gomez, said as he stepped to the mic.
“He was born to be a racetracker,” he said of his son.
Gomez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, won 13 Breeders’ Cup races, including the 2010 Classic with Blame, defeating the previously unbeaten Zenyatta. He won four races on the program in 2008, taking the Sprint with Midnight Lute, the Juvenile with Midshipman, the Filly and Mare Sprint with Ventura, and the Dirt Mile with Albertus Maximus.
“I want you all to know that he remembered every winning horse that he ever rode,” Gomez’s daughter Amanda said.