07/09/2009 11:00PM

Apprentice Hernandez off to hot start

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - At age 25, apprentice Ricky Hernandez Jr. might have launched his riding career a little later than most, but he has wasted little time making an impact this meet at Lone Star Park.

Hernandez improved his record to 5 for 26 on Thursday night when he guided Belen Cuvee to a debut win in the first race. Hernandez has also had four second-place finishes and has compiled mount earnings of $57,537. He won the first race of his career on May 21, and all of his wins have come aboard horses owned by Keith Asmussen.

Hernandez, who is a native of Coahuila, Mexico, said through a translator Thursday night that Asmussen has been the driving force behind his career. He said the reason he began race riding this past May was because Asmussen asked him to.

Hernandez has been part of Asmussen's horse operation in Laredo, Texas, since he was a teenager. His father works as an assistant at the farm, and Hernandez galloped horses there and later at Lone Star Park for Keith Asmussen's son, trainer Steve Asmussen. All of Hernandez's winning mounts have been trained by Steve Asmussen.

"Ricky is up from Laredo, and this is his first meet," Steve Asmussen said. "He's a great hand and a good guy."

Hernandez is one of a number of local riders to come through Laredo, where the Asmussen family, which includes retired champion jockey Cash Asmussen, develops a lot of young horses. Among those who have galloped horses for Steve Asmussen and gone on to riding careers are Erik McNeil, an apprentice now based at Lone Star, and Jose Figueroa, a journeyman who is also competing in Grand Prairie. Eguard Tejera, a multiple title winner at Retama Park, spent time galloping for Asmussen several years ago in New York.

Hernandez is one of at least four apprentice riders based this meet at Lone Star.

Tejera and Figueroa both also had winners Thursday night at Lone Star.

Plans for McKenna's Justice

McKenna's Justice, who was a sweeping winner of a maiden special weight at 7 1/2 furlongs here July 2, is being pointed for the $50,000 Sunny's Halo at Louisiana Downs on Aug. 15, said his trainer, Danny Pish. The one-mile turf race for 2-year-olds is a stepping-stone to the $150,000 Sunday Silence on the Super Derby undercard Sept. 19.

McKenna's Justice rallied from eighth to win the maiden race, which was the first route offering for 2-year-olds this meet. He made up five lengths in the stretch in a calvary charge, winning by three-quarters of a length under Chris Landeros.

"It was a good-looking race," said Pish. "He was meant to go the two turns."

McKenna's Justice, a son of Medaglia d'Oro, was making his second start in the race. He is a half-brother to Wholelottabourbon, a four-time stakes winner who has earned $429,835. McKenna's Justice is owned by Judge Lanier Racing.

Pish, who is the third-leading trainer at Lone Star, said that after the meet he will have horses at both Retama Park and Remington Park. He will have 35 horses at Remington this year versus the 20 head he had there in 2008.

Asmussen filly impressive

Steve Asmussen has a top candidate for the $60,000 Oklahoma Classics Lassie in Vertical Vision. She looked outstanding winning a recent maiden special weight at Lone Star by more than six lengths, earning a Beyer Figure of 86.

"She ran a great race," said Asmussen. "We're hoping to be in the Oklahoma Classics. She'll find a spot between now and then."

The Lassie will be run Nov. 22 at Remington.

* Jockey Luis Quinonez did not ride Friday night because of rib injuries he sustained playing in a charity softball game, said his agent, Gerry DiLaura. The game, which benefited the Don MacBeth Fund, was held last week. Quinonez was named to ride here Sunday.

* Trainer Nathan Wallis said he is sending a small string of horses to Woodbine.