Brian Hernandez Jr. will mount Dolphus in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes with an eye toward May.
Although an accomplished jockey who rode in the 2013 Preakness Stakes, he has never ridden in the Kentucky Derby, and the way promising 3-year-old Dolphus has been developing, Hernandez is hoping the colt might end up being his ticket.
Dolphus is a 15-1 shot in a race with Airoforce, Mo Tom, Gun Runner and Tom’s Ready. However, a sibling of legendary filly Rachel Alexandra, he has won two of his past three races, all at the Fair Grounds.
“He has been coming along real nice,” Hernandez said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he did very well. We’ll see how he comes out of this race.”
The same is true with Colby Hernandez, who will be aboard 12-1 shot Forevamo. Like, Brian, his older brother by three years, Colby is hopeful things play out in the Risen Star then the Louisiana Derby on March 26 to where Forevamo has a shot at Churchill Downs.
“That’s the dream,” Colby Hernandez said.
It’s been the dream since the sons of veteran jockey Brian Hernandez Sr. were kids on their family’s 15-acre farm in Lafayette, racing against each other at ages 9 and 6.
“I had a Shetland pony, and he had a Welsh,” Colby said. “And, we’d race back and forth.”
Said Brian, chuckling: “We’d get in a little trouble with my mom (Stephanie Hernandez). She’d tell us in the summer that we were running the horses too much in the heat. We’d break through fences going after cows and stuff.”
They have broken through in a big way as jockies. Brian, 30, who was exercising horses in the morning then riding at night as a jockey at Delta Downs while at Acadiana High School, was the 2004 Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey after his first season. He rode Rachel Alexandra to two wins in her first five starts in 2009.
He had an impressive 2012, winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic on his 27th birthday and also the Whitney Classic, both aboard Fort Larned. His mounts earned a career-best $8.03 million that year.
Last year, Brian’s mount earnings topped $5.9 million. However, Colby finished third in the nation with 302 wins in 2015, his mounts earning $5.6 million.
“Brian has been to the mountaintop, winning the Breeders’, but they both are as good as any jockies in America,” said trainer Al Stall, who has had Brian as a main rider since 2006 and Colby less often. “Given the right horse, they can win any race. They are both patient riders. Both are very quiet, taking it all in. But they usually end up in the winner’s circle.”
Brian has 1,454 career wins totalling more than $48 million in mount earnings. Colby has 1,530 wins totalling $28.7 million.
Riding in the same races has become old hat, especially now that both are full-time jockies at the Fair Grounds, each riding in five races a day.
However, there have been special times, such as the 2013 Louisiana Derby, the biggest race in which they competed against each other. Both were on horses trained by Stall.
“I was on Sunbeam, (finishing eighth),” said Colby, “and he was on Departing (finishing third). That was exciting.”
Then there was an extremely close maiden race that went to video last Saturday at the Fair Grounds, with Brian aboard Forgotten and Colby on KissedbyKris.
“We were cracking jokes and each saying he’d won,” Colby said. “I told him I’d gotten him by a nose. Then, it hit the board that it was a dead heat. I was just glad it didn’t come out that he got me.”
Having a brother as a fellow jockey has been beneficial for both. , That was particulary true for Colby last September, when his collarbone was broken during a spill at Churchill Downs. Fortunately, Brian was there.
“I was staying at his house (in Louisville),” Colby said. “I ended up missing three weeks. So, it was good having family there.”
Then there’s the time away from the track.
“We play golf a lot,” Brian said. “It’s a good way to have fun, get away from things.”
Things, of course, remain competitive.
“He’s been beating me a lot lately,” said Colby, chuckling.
Being the sons of Brian Hernandez Sr. has its advantages. Brian Jr. learned a lot about professionalism from his father.
“He taught me a lot about how to conduct myself, how to present myself,” Brian said. “The importance of making sure you rest, and always showing up on time.”
Colby had the privilege of riding at the same tracks as his father — Delta Downs and Evangeline — near their hometown for six years.
“After races I rode in, we’d go back to the jockey clubhouse and watch the replay, and he’d say, ‘You should have done this here, and you did the right thing there,” Colby said. “He did the same thing with Brian, even when (Brian Jr.) was (riding at Churchill Downs) in Kentucky. They’d talk about the races and how they went.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson Brian Hernandez Sr. taught was with actions, not words.
“He was like an idol you look up to when he was a jockey and we were kids,” Brian Jr. said. “But he came home every night. He could have ridden at bigger tracks out of state, but family is important to him.”
Even though it’s all business on the track.
As a result of better than expected pari-muuel handle and an increase in poker revenue throughout the racing meet, the Fair Grounds will increase purses by 10 percent for the final 14 racing days. It will take effect on March 6.