Juan Hernandez. Benoit Photos
DMTC News/From the Wire
DEL MAR, Calif.—Juan Hernandez returns to Del Mar this week in search of a hat trick. Should he capture the riding title at the Bing Crosby meet it would be his third consecutive riding title at the seaside track. He ran away with the jockey’s race this past summer and captured his first local riding title last fall.
Hernandez also won the Santa Anita winter/spring meet title earlier this year and was in the mix until the final day of Santa Anita’s fall meet so he’s been riding a hot streak for the past 12 months and brings plenty of momentum into the Bing Crosby meet, which begins its ninth season this Friday.
“I’m really happy,” Hernandez says. “My agent and I have got some really good horses to ride in the past couple meets. Just working hard that’s the key to winning. Checking the barns and the trainers, see if they need any help. They may not need help in the morning but sometimes they will give you a mount in the afternoon.”
Similar to the Del Mar summer meet, Hernandez will have a new influx of top jockeys to deal with this fall. Flavien Prat and John Velasquez have both said they plan to ride during the Bing Crosby meet. That is in addition to the usual top riders returning to Del Mar: Umberto Rispoli, Abel Cedillo, Santa Anita fall meet riding champion Ramon Vasquez, Hector Berrios, and a resurgent Edwin Maldonado. Not to mention Mike Smith, Joe Bravo, Victor Espinoza, Mario Gutierrez and Kyle Frey.
“I don’t mind,” Hernandez says. “I like the competition. I like to ride with those guys because you can learn a lot from them and it’s a good experience to ride with them. That’s why I’m here. Since I was a bug boy in Mexico I wanted to come here and ride with the best jockeys in the world.”
Hernandez defeated Prat by three victories in the 2021 Del Mar fall meet jockeys’ race, compiling over $1.1 million in earnings, without the aid of a Breeders’ Cup purse which tended to inflate the earnings of several jockeys at last fall’s meet. He finished third on Mackinnon in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but otherwise all his winnings came from the races he rode during the regular portion of the meet. He finished with 17 victories from 79 starts, with 13 seconds and 11 thirds.
“Craig (O’Bryan, his agent) tells me we have some good horses to ride at Del Mar,” Hernandez explains, adding that he likes riding the fall meet.
“I like Del Mar,” Hernandez says. “The track is beautiful. I like both surfaces, turf and dirt. The only thing is the drive back and forth.”
Unlike in the summer, when the jockeys and trainers live in the San Diego area during the meet, most of them commute from L.A. during the fall meet. Hernandez says he will drive down to Del Mar on Fridays and return on Sunday to Los Angeles where he works horses at Santa Anita during the week. It’s this dedication that has endeared Hernandez to many top trainers in Southern California and earned him several mounts at this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
“It was really good,” Hernandez says. “We got a second and my horses ran good.”
Hernandez finished second aboard Cave Rock in the Juvenile, his best effort in the Breeders’ Cup since his runner-up finish aboard Anneau d’Or to Storm the Court in the 2019 Juvenile. He had three other mounts in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. He also rode Edgeway in the Filly & Mare Sprint (7th); Gaslight Dancer in the Juvenile Turf (6th) and Artemus Citylimits in the Turf Sprint (5th).
“We’ve done really good there at Del Mar the past couple of meets,” Hernandez notes, “and hopefully we can keep it going.”