Hernandez Continues To Enjoy The Ride Of His Life

Brian Hernandez | Coady Media


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Brian Hernandez had a huge weekend on the first weekend in May.

The 38-year-old jockey is hoping for another big one on the second weekend in June.

Hernandez is the pilot of the best 3-year-old filly in the country in Thorpedo Anna (Fast Anna). He also is the teammate of one of the best 3-year-old colts in the land in Mystik Dan (Goldencents).

Both horses are trained by Kenny McPeek and they gave Hernandez the biggest thrill of his 21-year career last month. Thorpedo Anna won the GI Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 4; the next day, Mystik Dan won the GI Kentucky Derby. Hernandez became just the ninth rider in history to win both in the same year.

“It's been crazy, it's been life changing,” Hernandez said by phone from Louisville, Ky. “We have worked so long to be able to ride horses like this … to be able to show up on the big stage is an incredible feeling.”

The magic ride could continue when Thorpedo Anna runs in the GI DK Acorn S. at Saratoga Race Course on Friday and Mystik Dan takes on the GI Belmont Stakes Saturday.

“(Mystik Dan) is a horse that doesn't mind being in some battles and tight spots,” Hernandez said. “He is not the biggest horse in the world, but he is full of heart. (Thorpedo Anna) has done everything we have asked of her so far. She has answered every question.”

Thorpedo Anna, with Brian Hernandez aboard | Horsephotos

Hernandez splashed onto the national scene when he rode Fort Larned to victory in the 2012 GI Breeders' Cup Classic.

Winning the major races in Kentucky have been the pinnacle. He and his wife, Jamie accepted an invitation to visit Louisiana (his home state) Governor Jeff Landry.

“I have gotten a lot of attention,” he said. “Anytime someone asks me for an autograph, I sign. There will be a time when no one knows who you are, and no is going to want it. You have to enjoy the spotlight when it's on you.”

Hernandez, a mainstay in the Kentucky jockey colony, has had a good relationship with McPeek–who became the first trainer to win the Oaks and Derby in the same year since 1952–as he gets first call on the barn's top horses.

When asked if Hernandez is an underrated rider, McPeek doesn't hesitate.

“Very,” he said. “The key to him is that gets a horse to travel underneath him. How a rider gets a horse to flow during the middle of the race can be more important than the finish. He has real soft hands and never checks a horse–ever–unless someone takes him out. That's a big deal because he does not cost them any lost motion.”

Hernandez has heard the underrated tag put on him but shrugs it off.

“It's horse racing, it's not jockey racing,” he said. “Most of the time, a good rider can get a good horse there. You need the stock. The biggest thing is to have the people behind you.”


Contessa Hopes For A Couple More Big Runs

Last summer, trainer Gary Contessa opened the Saratoga Race meet with a bang when Becky's Joker (Practical Joke) won the GIII Schuylerville S. at 21-1 odds.

He would have to wait until closing day before he got his second win and he did that with a sonic boom when Nutella Fella (Runhappy) pulled a shocker in the GI Hopeful, winning at 54-1.

Nutella Fella | Sarah Andrew

“That was amazing, considering I didn't expect it,” Contessa said along the rail at the Oklahoma Training Track.

Both are coming back in the Belmont Racing Festival. Becky's Joker, owned by Lee Pokoik, is 8-1 on the morning line in Thursday's six-furlong Jersey Girl S. and Nutella Fella 15-1 in the GI Woody Stephens for Bell Gable Stable LLC.

Both have been off since last year's improbable results.

Nutella Fella has fully recovered, Contessa said, from a non-displaced fracture of his left hind ankle. That forced him to miss the GI Champagne S.

“I knew we would get him back, was I going to get him back for the Woody Stephens? That was going to be up to him,” Contessa said. “He is ready for this race.”

Becky's Joker, seventh in the GIII Adirondack S. last summer, had to be turned out shortly after that.

“She lost her mind, she was a mental case at the end of the meet,” Contessa said. “No physical issues.”

She has returned and has a solid work tab–as does Nutella Fella–and Contessa says she is ready.

Becky's Joker was also entered in the 1 1/8-mile DK Acorn on Friday but Contessa and Pokoik opted for the shorter race. She had drawn the rail in the Acorn; she has the three in the Jersey Girl S.

Becky's Joker | Sarah Andrew

“The sprint made the most sense,” Contessa said. “She is so big (17.2 hands) that when she goes in the starting gate, her nose is touching the front and her butt is touching the back. She doesn't get the push off that smaller horses get.”

A slow break in the Acorn could compromise her chances and she won't have to face GI Kentucky Oaks winner Thorpedo Anna.

Contessa is just glad to have both horses back in the barn. And, perhaps, provide another surprise. Or two.


Weather Forecast Not Great

If you're going to attend any of the four days of the Belmont S. Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course, bring the rain coat.

According to the National Weather Service in Albany, rain is in the forecast from Thursday-Sunday.

“We are going to see a chance for showers and thunderstorms each day, that's the bad part,” NWS meteorologist Brian Frugis said. “The good part is it won't be raining the entire time for any of these days.”

According to Frugis, the worst day of the week figures to be Thursday when he said there is an 80 percent chance of rain, with the heaviest coming in the late afternoon and evening hours. He said a good portion of the afternoon should be dry.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the chance of rain is 60 percent, Frugis said.

“Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it will be more lighter showers,” he said.

When asked to rank the weekend on a one-to-10 scale with 10 being the best, Frugis could only come up with a four.

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