Photo: Don August
When Good Karma fought back down the stretch to overcome the very tough Halo Dolly and win the Luther Burbank Handicap on Sunday, jockey Juan Hernandez had cause to celebrate.
He brought his mount back to the winners circle and tossed his whip through the air to his awaiting valet. And why not?
The win capped a hot start to the Sonoma County Fair for the 21-year-old.
He rode 10 races over the first three days, registering 5 wins, a second and three thirds. Included in those wins, was victories in four consecutive races over two days and both $50,000 stakes events the weekend offered.
When racing resumed Wednesday, he won on three of his five mounts and for good measure added one more win on Thursday, on an 22-1 outsider nonetheless. The numbers for the five days so far is 9-2-3 in 20 mounts.
If you have watched Hernandez ride at all, you know this is no little hot streak he is on.
Ever since he arrived in the bay area in 2009 from his home in Mexico, Hernandez has been considered one of the up and coming stars of the racing scene. Well, I’m here to tell you that he is no longer up and coming.
Juan Hernandez has arrived
In just four full years of riding in the US, Hernandez has averaged 125 wins a year and Sunday, eclipsed the 500 win mark. In a place where Hall of Famer Russell Baze is the king of racing, Hernandez seems primed and ready to establish himself as a top candidate to assume the throne.
Of course I don’t want to belittle the talents of veterans Frank Alvarado (2,883 wins in 28 years) and Dennis Carr (2, 688 wins in 27 years), who over the years have managed second place finishes to Baze and are still top four riders. But Hernandez is just scratching the surface.
The youngster has been no worse than 6th in every bay area meet so far, prompting him to take a stab at the Southern California Circuit last year. After a solid third place finish in the Fairplex meet at Pomona (behind Edwin Maldonado and Martin Pedroza), he tailed off at the other so Cal meets and eventually returned to the bay this year to resume his Nor Cal career.
While he admittedly learned a lot by riding down south, the wins did not come for him. Many Nor Cal observers blamed the fact that he took his agent with him, instead of getting an agent with solid so cal connections. Whether or not that played a part, I can’t say. Hernandez loyalty to his friend and agent stayed solid. Together they have regained their standing in the bay.
Why do I think Hernandez will do so well?
For starters, he rides for most of the top barns at Golden Gate Fields, which assures he will get live mounts. Secondly, he returned from So Cal with a patience he didn’t have before. And oh by the way, he is well liked by most he comes in contact with. His character came through when he was asked by Canter (An organization that places retired race horses in new homes) if he would wear their organization's name on his jockey pants. He quickly agreed.
I can’t say for sure that Juan is the future of Northern California racing because I’m not sure this is where he will always make his home. If he does stay here, he is definitely the one that will someday reign supreme. But with his talent, I find it hard to believe he will stay here. The money to be made and star horses to ride will probably lure him to bigger and more famous venues. But wherever he lands in the future, his name will become a fixture and someday he will be riding, and winning the biggest races the sport has to offer.