11/30/2011 4:25PM

Aqueduct: Trainer Hernandez calls it quits at 86

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Barbara D. Livingston
Ramon "Mike" Hernandez, shown last July at Saratoga, is ending a training career that began in the United States in 1976.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Ramon “Mike’’ Hernandez officially retired from training Wednesday, passing the mantle of oldest active trainer on the backside of New York Racing Association tracks to Frank “Pancho’’ Martin, who turns 86 on Saturday.

Hernandez, who turns 87 on Jan. 19, ran his last horse on Sunday when Skinnydipper finished eighth in a maiden special weight race at Aqueduct. On Thursday, Hernandez was scheduled to turn over the last horse in his care, Tug of War, to Heriberto Cedano. Tug of War, a 2-year-old gelding by Smarty Jones owned in part by Hernandez’s wife Mary, won a New York-bred allowance race on Nov.18 and could run back in Sunday’s $65,000 Damon Runyon Stakes at Aqueduct.

One of the reasons Hernandez won’t start that horse Sunday is because he would have to a pay month’s worth of insurance premiums just to run one horse, he said.

“I’ll miss the business; the people have been so good,’’ Hernandez said Wednesday sitting behind his desk in Barn 57 on the Belmont backside. “The people at the racetrack have all been good to me, the management, the owners, the trainers.’’

Hernandez, a native of Union de San Antonio Jalisco, Mexico, trained in the U.S. since 1976. According to Daily Racing Form statistics, Hernandez won 603 races from 5,419 starters and his horses earned $18,820,126 in purse money.

Hernandez trained a plethora of stakes winners, including Vandy Sue, who gave Hernandez his lone graded stakes victory in the 1978 Distaff at Aqueduct. Vandy Sue also won the New York Breeders' Futurity and Finger Lakes Futurity in 1976, Hernandez’s first full year of training in the U.S.

Other stakes winners trained by Hernandez included Adirondack Holme, Cassie’s Birthday, Fratello Ed, Restrainor, Sir Proves It, Three Pack, Ransom’s Pride, Beautiful America, Classic Pack, and Mine Over Matter.

“It was not easy to get here but we made it,’’ Hernandez said.

Hernandez first got into racing in 1944 when Hipodromo opened in Mexico City. The following year, he went to Canada, where he met trainer Cecil Locklear, who took Hernandez under his wing and helped get him into racing in the U.S.

“He taught me just about everything and gave me lots of encouragement,’’ Hernandez said.

Hernandez returned to Mexico City in the 1950s and met Laz Barrera, for whom he worked for a year. Barerra came to the U.S. before Hernandez, who stayed in Mexico and trained on his own.

When Hernandez did come to the U.S. in the mid 1960s, Barerra helped get him a job at Clermont Farm in Germantown, N.Y., where he trained and broke yearlings for about a decade before taking out his trainer’s license in 1976.

Dr. Dominick DeLuke, owner of Assunta Louis Farms, helped get Hernandez started. The trio of Assunta horses Vandy Sue, Fratello Ed, and Sir Prove It finished one-two-three in the New York Breeders’ Futurity at Finger Lakes.

“I got lucky, we got rolling right away,’’ Hernandez said. “It hasn’t been easy but thank God we’ve been lucky to do the best we can and we’re okay.’’

Hernandez has homes in Saratoga and south Florida. He has three daughters and five grandchildren, all of whom live in the New York area.