His standing among the riding elite in the Midwest cemented by a banner 2018 season, Brian Hernandez Jr. has ventured to Gulfstream Park to test his abundant skills against the world's best jockeys on a daily basis during his first Championship Meet.
The 33-year-old journeyman, who has ridden the winners of 1882 races and more than $73 million in purses, has enjoyed early success while winning on seven of 35 starters.
“Coming down here, coming into a meet like this, you don't know what to expect. But we got off to a good start,” Hernandez said. “How can you not love this place between the weather and everything else?”
Hernandez, who rode two winners Wednesday, collected his 13th graded-stakes victory of the year last Saturday while guiding Sir Anthony to a narrow triumph over heavily favored Audible in the Harlan's Holiday (G3). A rail-skimming ride by Hernandez made all the difference in Sir Anthony's half-length triumph over the wide-running 2018 Florida Derby (G1) winner.
“The Harlan's Holiday was a good boost up for us,” the Lafayette, LA native said. “And we've been fortunate that the people who we came here for have supported us well.”
Hernandez, who captured the 2018 Churchill Downs spring meet, is especially excited about riding horses for trainer Kenny McPeek, who has returned to race at Gulfstream Park after spending the past two winters at Oaklawn Park.
“Kenny and I have been on a pretty good roll,” he said. “I've been fortunate that he's put me on some really good horses, and he's brought some pretty nice horses for us to ride.”
Hernandez rode the McPeek-trained Signalman to an off-the-pace triumph in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs Nov. 24.
“After the Kentucky Jockey Club it looks like he's one of the top 3-year-olds going into next year, so you have to be excited,” said Hernandez, who was aboard the son of General Quarters in a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs.
McPeek and Hernandez have also teamed for graded-stakes victories with Restless Rider in the Alcibiades (G1), Cairo Cat in the Iroquois (G3), Princess Warrior in the Mrs. Revere (G2), and Daddy's Little Darling in the Modesty (G3) this year.
Hernandez has also ridden three graded-stakes winners for trainer Rusty Arnold, scoring aboard Funny Duck in the Pat Day Mile (G3), Miss Kentucky in the Winning Colors (G3) and Skeptic in Monmouth Oaks (G3).
Hernandez, whose career highlight thus far is his winning ride aboard Ian Wilkes-trained Fort Larned in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita, was born into a racing family. His father, Brian Hernandez retired from riding in 2014 with 1315 wins. His brother, Colby, has ridden 1980 winners while competing in Louisiana.
Hernandez began galloping horses at the age of 12 and rode his first winner at Delta Downs on the night of Nov. 29, 2003 after working toward his high school diploma during the day. He won his first riding title at Evangeline Downs in 2004 on his way to being honored with an Eclipse Award as North America's outstanding apprentice jockey. In 2008, he rode future Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra for a pair of wins, including her maiden-breaking triumph at Churchill Downs in her second career start and a subsequent allowance victory.
Hernandez, wife Jamie, daughter Jocelyn, 4, and son Benjamin, 2, live on a seven-acre farm in Louisville, KY.
“I'm 33 now with a wife and kids. Everything's settled down,” Hernandez said. “What I've liked about my whole career is that I've been steady. Each year has gotten better and better. It's seems like the more experience I've gotten, people have put us on better horses. That's what it all boils down to.”
Hernandez is looking forward to continuing to enjoy success aboard better horses during his first Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park.
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