After Triple Crown, a new world greets Victor Espinoza

July 5, 2015

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) This is the new reality for Victor Espinoza.

A half-filled white Styrofoam cup of espresso is to his left, a black Sharpie pen is in his right hand and a 3-inch-high stack of Triple Crown commemorative posters is in front of him. He signs one, then someone whisks it off the top of the pile. Sign another, whisk another. Sign, whisk. Sign, whisk.

''It never ends,'' he said without looking up.

He's not complaining.

For the rest of his life, Espinoza will be introduced as a Triple Crown winner. He rode American Pharoah to wins in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, and the month since that grind ended has been a nonstop cavalcade of opportunity for the 43-year-old who couldn't speak English when he came to the United States from Mexico two decades ago and used to sleep at racetracks because he couldn't afford anything better.

Those days are gone. He's a celebrity, an unlikely one and maybe even his sport's biggest one.

''Sometimes it's fun. Sometimes it's a little bit overwhelming,'' Espinoza said. ''I started to think about it and it's all for the fans. They really want a little attention and to talk about my experience to the Triple Crown and for them, too. Sometimes it's overwhelming. You can't go anywhere. But it's OK.''

He appeared and spoke at Gulfstream Park on Sunday, his first visit to that track since the Breeders' Cup was there in 1999. Espinoza rode in Gulfstream's Summit of Speed races, plus signed autographs for fans who waited in line on a scorching afternoon to get a moment or two with thoroughbred racing's brightest current star - at least of the nonequine variety.

''They say racing is dead, or they say racing is dying,'' said John Anderson, 44, who drove nearly two hours from Port St. Lucie, Florida just to get his moment with Espinoza. ''It's not. It's alive and well and Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah and (the horse's trainer) Bob Baffert are why I think racing is going to become bigger than it's ever been.''

It's not like the Triple Crown made Espinoza a racing star. He won the first two legs of the Triple Crown twice before, first aboard War Emblem in 2002 and then with California Chrome last year.

But it took his level of celebrity and shot it into the stratosphere. He raced a motorized minibike against Jimmy Fallon, and won. He's been to the CMT Music Awards, which he never figured would be on his to-do list. And on Saturday, Espinoza was seated on the back of a gray Porsche as a guest of honor in the Independence Day parade at his home in Sierra Madre, California.

Then came the cross-country flight to South Florida.

''That explains that,'' he said, pointing at the coffee cup.

He took a couple weeks off from riding after the Triple Crown journey was over, and is now working back to what would be a regular schedule. He'll return to ride in California this week and focus on the meet at Del Mar for most of the summer. American Pharoah's next start is set for the Haskell at Monmouth on Aug. 2, and the Travers next month at Saratoga Race Course could possibly be in play.

Espinoza said it still doesn't seem real.

''Over time, it will,'' he said. ''It's just right now, I think because I have a lot of things that I'm doing right now - go here, go there - I don't have the chance.''

He's also writing a book, detailing his life from its meager beginnings growing up on a Mexican farm to driving a bus in Mexico City to becoming a jockey and now as its first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

''It'll be the real life of a jockey,'' Espinoza said. ''A few times, I was ready to quit.''

With that, he went back to his pile. There were plenty more posters to sign.