Juan Hernandez to Pilot Skinner in Kentucky Derby

April 27, 2023

Pictured breaking his maiden, Skinner will be piloted by Juan Hernandez in Derby 149 (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Santa Anita Stable Notes by Victor Ryan

ARCADIA, Calif.— Jockey Juan Hernandez will ride Skinner in the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs, trainer John Shirreffs confirmed Thursday. Skinner will be the first Kentucky Derby mount for Hernandez, who has emerged as Santa Anita’s top jockey since arriving in 2020.

Owned by Lee and Susan Searing’s C R K Stable, Skinner most recently was beaten just a half-length by Practical Move when third in the GI Santa Anita Derby under Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza on April 8. Entering Thursday, the Curlin colt had ranked 21st in the standings for the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters. But the situation changed Thursday morning when GIII Sunland Derby winner Wild On Ice suffered a catastrophic injury during a workout at Churchill Downs.

Skinner is scheduled to have his final Kentucky Derby work at Santa Anita on Saturday and ship to Churchill Downs via FedEx the following day.

Espinoza, who turns 51 on May 23, had ridden Skinner in his five most recent starts. While Espinoza is a three-time Kentucky Derby winner, who also swept the Triple Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah, he has largely struggled this year. Entering Friday’s card at Santa Anita, Espinoza has two wins from 35 mounts in 2023.

Juan Hernandez dons the C R K silks aboard Exaulted (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

Hernandez is a 31-year-old native of Veracruz, Mexico. He dominated the recently concluded Classic Meet at Santa Anita when riding 63 winners which was more than double the total of his next closest pursuer (Flavien Prat, 31 wins). Hernandez also led all riders with 13 stakes tallies and his mounts won at a robust 25 percent clip at the Classic meet. Last year, he also won the jockey’s title at the Santa Anita Winter-Spring Meet.

Hernandez is represented by veteran agent Craig O’Bryan, who has had his share of Kentucky Derby success. O’Bryan was the agent for Eddie Delahoussaye when the Hall of Fame jockey won the roses in both 1982 with Gato Del Sol and 1983 with Sunny’s Halo.

“Skinner ran great in the Santa Anita Derby and If you like (winner) Practical Move you have to like this horse as he only got beat a half -length,” O’Bryan said Thursday morning. “I think he has a super chance in the Kentucky Derby. Juan and I are delighted to be riding him. This will be Juan’s first Kentucky Derby and he’s very excited.”

In 2022, Hernandez ranked 9th nationally in earnings with more than $15 million and 11th nationally in wins with 211.

In other Derby-related news, Santa Anita Derby runner-up Mandarin Hero departed Santa Anita for Churchill Downs at about 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning. With the loss of Wild on Ice, the import from Japan now ranks 23rd on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. If Mandarin Hero does not make the Kentucky Derby starting gate, his connections plan for him to run in the Preakness at Pimlico on May 20.

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