11/03/2012 9:26PM

Breeders' Cup Classic: Hernandez has double cause for celebration

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Barbara D. Livingston
Brian Hernandez Jr. shows his appreciation of Fort Larned after the horse won the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the rider’s birthday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - How did you celebrate your 27th birthday?

Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. celebrated his on Saturday winning the richest race in North America, guiding Fort Larned to a front-running victory over Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

It was his only mount on the day and his first-ever mount at Santa Anita.

"This is the greatest birthday present ever," Hernandez said shortly after he got off Fort Larned.

[BREEDERS' CUP 2012: Saturday results and video replays]

It was the 1,033rd career victory for Hernandez, whose career began in 2003. He has ridden primarily on the Louisiana and Kentucky circuits, but this year got to go on the road with Fort Larned, riding him to wins at Prairie Meadows, Saratoga, and Santa Anita.

It was a big vote of confidence for trainer Ian Wilkes to stick with Hernandez, whose only graded stakes win before this year came on Cielo Gold in the 2006 Indiana Derby.

Wilkes said his confidence in Hernandez stemmed from Hernandez's confidence in the horse.

"He trusted the horse," Wilkes said. "He let the horse do it. You can never do it on your own. I can't do it, and the jockey can't do it. You have to let the horse do it. That's something that Brian let happen, he let the horse do it. That was the biggest key."

Wilkes and Hernandez discussed doing it on the front end, letting Fort Larned break away running and keeping him going. Though he carved out legitimate fractions of 23.20 seconds, 46.50 and 1:10.12, Hernandez had enough horse to enable Fort Larned to hold off Mucho Macho Man by a half-length.

"I was always really confident in the horse and the way the track was playing. Me and Ian talked it over and he said, 'Don't take away what comes easily to him.' " Hernandez said. "This horse is good once he gets cruising pretty good. That's what he did today."

Wilkes also told Hernandez to make a five-eighths-of-a-mile move. And leaving the five-eighths pole, with Mucho Macho Man, Hernandez spurted away.

"I told him, make a five-eighths-of-a-mile move with him, don't wait around for them," Wilkes said. "If you wait around those closers are going to get you, and we ain't going to beat them. He rode a good race."

It was a long day for Hernandez, who arrived in California at midnight after flying in from Kentucky, where on Friday he won the Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs aboard Neck 'n Neck for Wilkes.

Hernandez was at the barn by 4:30 a.m. and in the jock's room by the first race, which was run at 10:05 a.m., some 7 1/2 hours before he was to ride the Classic.

"I wanted to take it as routinely as possible, make it a routine day and let the horse do the talking for us," Hernandez said. "It got a little hard towards the end, the last couple of hours were a little anxious. I was up and down moving around a lot, reading the Form a lot. I didn't want to overthink it."

Now, he'll be thinking about his 27th birthday for many years to come.