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American Pharoah jockey gets third try at Triple Crown

Victor Espinoza rode American Pharoah to victory at the Preakness horse race, becoming the first jockey to enter the Belmont two years in a row with a chance to win the Triple Crown.

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    Trainer Bob Baffert rubs the head of Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah outside the stakes barn, Sunday, May 17, 2015 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
    Garry Jones/AP
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Victor Espinoza couldn't wait to get off American Pharoah.

His boots were water-logged, his goggles were painted with mud and a chill ran through the jockey's body as thunder roared overhead.

So, forgive Espinoza for acting like a man in a hurry to get the job done after the gate burst open Saturday to launch the 140th running of the Preakness.

"I was freezing," Espinoza said. "I just wanted to get it over with."

The Mexican jockey guided American Pharoah to a seven-length victory, keeping alive the bay colt's bid to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown.

American Pharoah came from behind to win the Kentucky Derby. In this one, he forged in front early and maintained the advantage to win easily.

Espinoza, trainer Bob Baffert and the marvelous Kentucky-bred horse will head to the Belmont, where on June 6 they will attempt to ride into history as the winner of the Triple Crown.

Espinoza has been here before — twice. In 2002, aboard the Baffert-trained horse War Emblem, Espinoza was in position to claim the Triple Crown.

War Emblem stumbled out of the gate and rallied before finishing eighth.

Last year, aboard California Chrome, Espinoza won the Derby and Preakness before finished fourth in the Belmont.

No sooner had Espinoza jumped off American Pharoah when someone wanted to know his thoughts about resuming a chase that has thus far been futile.

"Hopefully, the third time will be the lucky charm," Espinoza said.

It's the first time in history that the same jockey has entered the Belmont two years in a row with a chance to win the Triple Crown.

Although American Pharoah proved he's outstanding on a sloppy track, Espinoza will no doubt be looking for better conditions when it comes time to approach the starting gate in three weeks in New York.

Things got really weird for the 42-year-old jockey as the Preakness approached. One race earlier, the horse he was aboard — Grand Tito in the Dixie Stakes — sat down in the stall and had to be scratched.

Then, only 15 minutes before the Preakness, a horrific storm hit the track. As lightning cracked in the distance and thunder boomed above, sheets of rain came down on old Pimlico Race Course.

"The first thing I think about is so much water in my boots," Espinoza said.

It was time to adjust on the fly, and few in the sport do it as well as Espinoza.

"Going into these big races, sometimes we have a plan and a lot of things will change," he said. "Definitely, it changed a lot. Sometimes you make the right decisions, do what's best for the horse. All changed with the rain, but it worked out well."

Espinoza did a wonderful job — and so didAmerican Pharoah.

"Each race I learn something new, and he surprised me how he came around," Espinoza said. "Today is just an amazing race for him. I couldn't see how far I was in front because there was so much water in my eyes. But I was not worried about it."

Neither was Baffert.

"Victor ran a tremendous race and let him run," Baffert said. "That's how he likes to run."

There came a point when American Pharaoh lost much of his lead. Turns out, it meant nothing.

"Victor slowed him down a little bit, and then when they came to him at the 3/8th pole, my wife, Jill, was saying, 'They're coming to him,'" Baffert said. "I said, 'He's just waiting. He's waiting. And he just put it in overdrive."

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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