Victor Espinoza knows a good PR op when he sees one.
He's been in enough of them.
The first jockey to win the Triple Crown in 37 years when he guided American Pharoah to the elusive sweep in 2015, and the regular rider of The People's Horse, two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome, Espinoza has exchanged network TV banter with the likes of David Letterman and displayed surprising terpsichorean footwork tripping the light fantastic on Dancing With the Stars.
He also recognizes the crossover public relations promotion value from a mainstream sport, in this instance boxing, which came to light after he befriended fellow Mexican and three-time world champion boxer Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and spent several days with him before, during and after his middleweight title bout draw against Gennady Golovkin before a sellout crowd in Las Vegas Sept. 16 that generated more than $27 million from 17,318 tickets sold.
It was the third-largest live gate in boxing history.
“Sports should support one other,” Espinoza said. “There were tons and tons of media at the fight, most of them from Spanish-speaking outlets, but all of it is important because racing has fallen behind and we need to stick together to get as much publicity as possible.
“I'm from a town near Mexico City and Canelo is from Guadalajara, where he has a farm with show horses, pretty much just for the fun of it. He wanted to meet me at Del Mar, so I invited him and he was able to see the difference between the two breeds, how Thoroughbreds train, and was very impressed with the whole atmosphere at the race track.”
Canelo (in Spanish, it's the masculine word for cinnamon, a common nickname for people with red hair, such as the boxer) at the age of five moved to Juanacatlan and grew up on his family's farm, where he learned to ride, which he still does today.
The youngest of eight children, seven of them boys, all his brothers became professional boxers, but Canelo's love of horses never waned, eventually leading to a meeting with Espinoza.
“He invited me to watch him train in La Jolla and I watched how they prepared for a fight and enjoyed seeing how athletes in other sports go through their routines,” Victor said. “Then he invited me to his fight in Las Vegas.
“It was interesting to see how he gets ready as a boxer, compared with how I prepare as a rider. Basically, we all have the same competitive drive, but more important to me was the fact that professionals from two different sports came together.
“This is something that could benefit every sport, especially horse racing, because we've fallen behind a little bit when it comes to getting publicity on a regular basis. We have to catch up, and sharing with other mainstream sports such as boxing gives us much needed exposure.
“I know I've been criticized for appearing on network shows and doing things away from the track when I was riding California Chrome and American Pharoah, but people have to understand that I only did that because I feel it's best for racing.”
Espinoza and Canelo, said Victor's agent, Brian Beach, “are two of the most recognized people in Mexico.”
Perhaps one day, they can meld the popularity of their sports to benefit racing, and Espinoza can return the favor for Canelo.
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