11/03/2012 10:26PM

Breeders' Cup Classic: Hernandez has double cause for celebration

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.

Jamesbond Bond More than 1 year ago
amazing ride brian,happy birthday,lots of luck down the road,stay safe,godbless
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
That move on the turn and the coupla lengths he opened made all the difference. Is that what them Euuropeens call turn of foot? Great job by the barn and rider. Hope to see them at Gulfstream.
Keith More than 1 year ago
While Ian Wilkes was very happy with his decision to keep Hernandez on board with Fort Larned, for his good sense in letting his horse run his race, Bob Baffert seemed a bit distraught post race over his choice to put Bejarano up instead of Chantal Sutherland on Game On Dude, the heavy favorite in the Classic. Admitting pre race that his horse has been breaking a step slow of late from the gate, Baffert told his interviewer from NBC that he instructed Bejarano to "just ride him like he's the best horse in the race". P race, Post race, Baffert was much less cheerful, of course. His take then was after getting away just a half step slow, Game on Dude was moving to track the early leaders, when his rider decided to take him up, and kept taking him up until it was much too late to close the distance he had allowed the winner to put on him. Baffert added "I told Bejarano that this horses only weapon is his speed, and you need to use that here". The jockey didn't, and it cost this team big. The fav was inexplicably taken off his game by the experienced jockey, while the youngster Hernandez let his horse run for the win! Good on Hernandez and Wilkes! But I can't help but wonder what the result would have been if Sutherland was up nursing that speed of the Dude on or just off the pace as she has ridden this horse so many times before.
MILL More than 1 year ago
Sutherland probably would have won as she knew quite well to let GOD run his race Reminds me of the great California horse of the 1960s, Native Diver. Always went to the front and the jockey let him run. He never knew any other way to run.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
Brian Hernandez, run out right now and buy yourself a lottery ticket. You are having one of the most spectacular days ever! - LOL. Congratulations to you on all of the incredible good luck you have had this weekend. Fort Larned is definitely your good luck charm, Brian. Cherish him!
Dave Schuler More than 1 year ago
YES Enjoy, you never know what tomorrow will bring-LOLK-DS