SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Victor Espinoza grew up on a farm in Mexico and was afraid of horses. As the son, nephew and brother of Venezuelan jockeys, Javier Castellano was born to ride, but his father didn’t want him to. Garrett Gomez, also a jockey’s son, was a standout big-race rider, but injuries and substance abuse brought him down. He was 44 when he died of a drug overdose in 2016.
Espinoza, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, swept the 2015 Triple Crown with American Pharoah. Castellano has won four consecutive Eclipse Awards, two Preaknesses and a record five Traverses. Gomez won two Eclipses and 13 Breeders’ Cup events. His most memorable victory was the 2010 Classic, when Blame handed the beloved Zenyatta her only defeat.
For the first time since 1973, more than two riders entered the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Also inducted Friday morning at the nearby Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion were France-based mare Goldikova, winner of three consecutive Breeders’ Cup miles (2008-10); the late trainer Thomas Voss, who excelled on the flat and over jumps, and steeplechaser Good Night Shirt.
Honored as Pillars of the Turf were three deceased movers and shakers: Breeders’ Cup founder John Gaines; owner, breeder and Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, and Matt Winn, the Churchill Downs president who popularized the Derby early in the 20th century.
Espinoza planted crops and milked cows on the farm and despite his fears, learned to ride. But he never set out to be a jockey and didn’t see his first race until age 14.
“At the track, some guy said, ‘Hey, are you a jockey? You’ve got the size, and you’re skinny,’ ” Espinoza said. “That gave me the idea.”
To earn tuition for jockey school, he drove a bus in Mexico City, although his feet barely reached the pedals. “It was more like trying to succeed and make money riding,” Espinoza said. “If I’d known I would take so much abuse from trainers, I would have chosen another career.”
As a boy, Castellano dreamed of playing baseball. “When I was 12, I realized my size was against me, so I decided to become a jockey.” He finally convinced his father, who wanted him to do anything but.
Louie Gomez said of his late son: “This is a little hard. My son was born to be a racetracker, and it was all he ever knew. There’s no greater honor he wanted to achieve than this.”
Goldikova’s powerful late kick beat males in nine graded stakes. Emcee Tom Durkin called her three Breeders’ Cup wins. “I don’t know if there ever was a horse who deserved more juicy superlatives than Goldikova,” he said.
Jack Fisher trained Good Night Shirt, who won more than $1 million and two Eclipses.
It was all about his horses for the gruff Voss. “Tom would have given a half-grumpy, half-funny speech that was more emotional than you would’ve thought,’’ presenter Joe Clancy said. “He would have said, ‘Why are we doing this? I have to go back to the barn and make sure the fans are on.’ ”