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Breeders' Cup 2017

Hernandez Reunites With Fort Larned

Brian Hernandez Fort Larned

Brian Hernandez Jr. had originally planned to ride fulltime at the current Gulfstream Park meeting, only to make a last-minute decision to return to Fair Grounds for the winter. However, there will be no keeping the 27-year-old Louisiana native away from the Hallandale Beach track on Saturday, when he is scheduled to ride Fort Larned in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Hernandez, who had ridden under the radar since being honored as the country’s champion apprentice in 2004 with an Eclipse Award, experienced a breakout moment when he guided Fort Larned to victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 3. Hernandez had built a solid career since winning 243 races in 2004, as evidenced by his 1000th career victory last summer at Ellis Park, but nothing can spark a jockey’s career more than a victory in the country’s richest race with the whole Thoroughbred world watching.

“This is life-changing,” said Hernandez, whose heads-up ride aboard Fort Larned was worth $270,000 to the son of still-active Brian Hernandez, who has won nearly 1300 races during 24 years of riding primarily in Louisiana.

Hernandez was given the opportunity to ride in bigger races by Fort Larned’s trainer Ian Wilkes, and he came through with the flying colors of owner-breeder Janis Whitham. It was a matter of being at the right place at the most opportune moment that aided Hernandez in joining the Fort Larned team.

“I got lucky. I rode him in a two-other-than (allowance at Churchill Downs) in the fall (of 2011) that he won. Then he went down to Florida with the rest of Ian’s horses and I didn’t get back on him until the Cornhusker in Iowa (June 30),” Hernandez said. “The only reason I got to ride him in the Cornhusker is because I was there that night to ride the Oaks for Rusty Arnold and Julien (Leparoux) had another mount in the Cornhusker.”

Fort Larned, who won the Skip Away (G3) at Gulfstream in track-record time, went unchallenged in a front-running three-length victory at Prairie Meadows over the heavily favored Successful Dan, ridden by Leparoux. Hernandez and the son of E Dubai came right back to capture the Whitney Handicap (G1) at Saratoga with a sharp off-the-pace score. A solid third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) behind defending champ Flat Out at Belmont set up Fort Larned for his stunning Classic triumph.

Years of hard work gave Hernandez a special appreciation for his Classic success.

“You get up every morning and go to work every day. You get knocked down more than you get pushed up,” said Hernandez, who ranks fourth in the jockey’s standings at Fair Grounds. “But you have to get up every day with a smile and go out there and work as many horses as you can and hope for the best, and hope you find a Fort Larned out there.”

Hernandez’s dedication to his career didn’t go unnoticed by the man who provided him the horse who gave him the ride of his life.

“He rides a good race; he always has ridden a good race. Sometimes, he just hasn’t had enough horse underneath him,” said Wilkes, who has regularly provided mounts for Hernandez in Kentucky. “He puts a horse in position to win a race. That’s the main thing.”



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