04/01/2017 7:18PM

Girvin's Louisiana Derby win puts him atop Ky. Derby points list

Hodges Photography/Amanda Hodges Weir
Girvin won by 1 1/4 lengths over Patch in the Louisiana Derby on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

NEW ORLEANS – Brian Hernandez Jr. stood off to the side of a crowded winner’s circle, cradling a giant, glass trophy. It was minutes after the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby had been run, and, as last month in the Grade 2 Risen Star here at Fair Grounds, it was Hernandez and Girvin who had won it, continuing a terrific run of success this Kentucky Derby season for the veteran jockey.

Part of being a jockey is maintaining your cool when others lose theirs, and in a chaotic winner’s circle, the thoughtful rider pondered his good fortune this spring: He has been riding Girvin. He has also been riding McCraken, currently the ante-post favorite for the Kentucky Derby on May 6. Girvin’s prep season is over, McCraken still has to run in the Blue Grass Stakes next Saturday at Keeneland.

Now that the Road to the Derby season had finished here in the Crescent City, it was time to head, literally and figuratively, to Kentucky. Hernandez was going to be in a car all night heading to Lexington to work McCraken on Sunday morning. He certainly was looking forward; he might have to pick between two top Derby horses. But he also wanted to cherish what has transpired so far.

“Right now we’re just going to enjoy this and worry about everything else tomorrow,” Hernandez said.

“This is the reason you get up at 5 in the morning, to ride two of the best Kentucky Derby contenders,” he said. “It’s a great situation to be in.”

Girvin did his part Saturday. He rallied from midpack to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths over Patch. Local Hero was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third, and nosed out Hollywood Handsome. Sorry Erik was fifth and was followed, in order, by Senior Investment, Guest Suite, Hotfoot, and Monaco.

Over a fast main track, Girvin covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.77. He earned $600,000 to bring his career earnings to $874,400 for owner Brad Grady, who acquired the Tale of Ekati colt as a yearling for $130,000.

Girvin ($4.60) was favored off his win in the Risen Star last month. He had to work harder this time, but the result was the same. He has now won three times in four starts, is unbeaten on dirt, is unbeaten going two turns on dirt. Not that he needed the points, but he got 100 for this win on top of the 50 he earned in the Risen Star, putting him atop the points list for the Derby.

His trainer, Joe Sharp, was so overcome with emotion in the aftermath of the race – crediting his wife, the former jockey Rosie Napravnik, and Grady – that he lost his voice. But he answered questions as gamely as Girvin was in the stretch.

“It doesn’t feel bad,” he said of having his first Kentucky Derby starter. Sharp said Napravnik, with whom he has two young sons and who gallops horses for him every morning, “has been a big part” of his success.

Girvin is “the best horse I’ve had,” Sharp said. He’s made just four starts, but he’s come a long ways since his debut win here Dec. 16. His wins in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby emulated Gun Runner last year. Gun Runner went on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby.

In the Louisiana Derby, Girvin settled into fifth place early as the longshot Hotfoot, also owned by Grady and trained by Sharp, set a quick pace that Sharp wanted to give Girvin his best chance. Hotfoot went along through fractions of 23.46 seconds for the opening quarter and 47 seconds for a half-mile. Monaco was second, with Local Hero, who has excellent natural speed, rated in third, a tactic that put him in an ideal striking position.

Local Hero surged to the front after six furlongs in 1:11.15, but Girvin was hot on his heels, and by the furlong pole Girvin had reeled in Local Hero. Patch rallied up the rail, but he was not a serious threat to Girvin in the late going.

“He’s such a talented horse. He puts a lot of confidence in me,” Hernandez said. “He put me in a good spot. When I saw that Local Hero settled better than he did last time, I gave myself a target.”

Hernandez said Girvin switched leads late, calling it “messing around.”

“He ran his race, perfect trip,” Hernandez said. “I called on him, and he ran on.”

Tyler Gaffalione, who rode Patch, thought his colt performed well considering it was only his third start, first in a stakes, and first around two turns.

“I think the horse will improve major off this race,” Gaffalione said. “He got behind another horse in the stretch and didn’t want to run into the dirt, but when I cut to the inside he cut.”

Florent Geroux, who rode Local Hero, said he had “no excuse,” that Local Hero relaxed to his delight, but could not stave off the top two.

“Good trip. Steve,” he said, referring to trainer Steve Asmussen, “and his team did a good job. Last time he was pretty aggressive.”

When the field reached the far turn, “I thought I was going to win,” Geroux said.

But Local Hero couldn’t stay the trip. Hernandez, by contrast, has been driving with a full tank.