JC / Railbird

The Connection

Like so much about California Chrome’s story, it started with a feeling:

The 42-year-old Espinoza is a respected rider, but his business has slipped recently for no discernible reason except the whims of his clients. For several months Espinoza watched Chrome, at Del Mar and at the now shuttered Hollywood Park. He liked him. “I told my agent [Brian Beach], ‘There’s something about that horse, Art Sherman’s horse,'” says Espinoza. “I’m not even sure what it was. I thought I would just fit him.”

Beach remembers the conversation. “Certain riders just go together with certain horses,” he says. “Their styles or just physically, the way the rider sits on the horse. Victor thought he was a good match with this horse.”

Chrome is not only unbeaten in six races with Espinoza, but horse and rider have also been uncommonly synchronous. When Chrome tired at the top of the stretch in the Kentucky Derby, Espinoza reminded him to change leads. Even as Chrome habitually turns his head from side to side in the starting gate (his blinkers inhibit peripheral vision), Espinoza has taught him to break cleanly. Every small acceleration that Espinoza needs, Chrome provides. “Tremendous ability,” says Espinoza. “So much talent.” The colt rarely feels Espinoza’s whip (just twice in the furious Preakness homestretch), instead trusting the rider’s hands to guide most of his action.

6/3/14 Addendum: Joe Drape tells the story of strangers, but for a horse.