Horse of the Year Paddys Day strikes for top rider Espinoza
Odds-on favourite Paddys Day registered a cosy victory in the $100,000 HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Darley Awards Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, winning under top jockey Victor Espinoza, who was riding in a purebred Arabian race for the first time.
Paddys Day – who on Friday was named Horse of the Year at the prestigious Darley Awards for the second year in succession – could finish only runner-up in last year's running of the Grade 1 contest, but he made amends in fine style under Triple Crown-winning jockey Espinoza, who gave the 3-5 favourite a confident ride along the rail before pulling out to launch a decisive challenge on the turn for home.
Easter Man – who himself had been honoured at the Darley Awards, winning the leading four-year-old colt/gelding prize – travelled noticeably powerfully throughout, tanking his way into the lead down the back straight. However he was unable to repel the strong challenge of Paddys Day and went down by a length and a quarter. Sand Victor filled the places in a never-threatening third.
"In 20 to 30 years I thought I had ridden them all but this was my first ever experience with an Arabian horse," Espinoza explained. “This horse was full of running going into the far turn – we just had to find a way through.
"It’s an honour to be a part of this race.”
Winning trainer Scott Powell said: "I feel real happy. You've always got to savour these wins because this isn't easy. We are really thankful for everyone who helps and we want to make Arabian racing huge."
The booking of Espinoza, who has been associated with some of the best US thoroughbreds of the 21st century, including American Pharoah and California Chrome, was seen as a major coup for Arabian racing. And Powell was certainly pleased to call on the help of such a star rider.
"A good jockey always helps as there are so many things that can go wrong," said Powell. "With a good jockey I don't even worry – I know he's going to make the best decision so I don't tell him what to do.
"We wanted Victor, so we got after him and we got him. I told him what Calvin Borel told me: 'It's just like riding a little thoroughbred'.
"I had no worries throughout the race as I knew our horse would finish well."