12/31/2004 12:00AM

Hernandez ends year on Gigawatt high note

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Louis Hodges Jr.
Gigawatt and Brian Hernandez Jr. lead gate to wire in the $60,000 Louisiana Handicap.

NEW ORLEANS - Brian Hernandez Jr. had a lot to celebrate on New Year's Eve. He finished the year as the top apprentice rider in victories in 2004 and is a leading candidate for the Eclipse Award. A 19-year-old native of Lafayette, La., Hernandez won 240 races in 1,439 mounts during the year, racking up earnings of more than $4.3 million.

New Year's Eve was also the day Hernandez lost his five-pound apprentice allowance and became a journeyman jockey. He joined his father, Brian Hernandez Sr., as one of the regular members of the local jockey colony. Many apprentices have a hard time getting mounts once they lose the weight allowance, but Hernandez was named on nine horses on Friday's 10-race card and scored his first win as a journeyman in the featured $60,000 aboard Gigawatt.

"We had a great year, and we're not having any problems getting mounts for him without the bug," said Hernandez's agent, Fred Aime. "He's a very personable kid, very goal oriented. He works hard, and people appreciate that. I think he's got a bright, bright future. He comes from a part of the country where a lot of the greatest jockeys are from, and there's no reason he shouldn't become one of them."

Hernandez is coming off consecutive second-place ties with Pat Day at Keeneland, where he won 20 races, and Churchill Downs, where he won 23. Hernandez did not participate in the Nov. 10 jockeys' boycott at Churchill, which resulted in suspensions for 14 riders.

Going into Friday's card, Hernandez had 10 winners at Fair Grounds.

Gigawatt leads all the way

Gigawatt ($9.80) showed them the way home in the 62nd running of the Louisiana Handicap, holding off favored Alumni Hall to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

"Everything went perfect," said Hernandez. "We knew they didn't have a lot of speed in the race so we took advantage of that."

Hernandez pushed Gigawatt to the lead from his outside post, clearing Kodema, who was hustled out from the rail by Jose Martinez Jr. Robby Albarado settled Alumni Hall back in third, tracking the leaders just inside of Colonial Colony.

Hernandez cleverly measured the pace on the front end, allowing Gigawatt to cut the quarter in 24.43 seconds and the half in 48.04 with the others giving chase. Approaching the top of the stretch Martinez went after the leader on Kodema while Albarado swung Alumni Hall out for the drive.

Gigawatt, rolling along after running six furlongs in 1:12.13, repulsed Kodema's bid, then stubbornly held on over Alumni Hall as the two pulled away from the rest of the field. The time for the 1 1/16-mile race was 1:43.58. Kodema finished another 3 3/4 lengths back in third, a length ahead of Colonial Colony. Absent Friend, Fantasticat, and Crowned King completed the order of finish.

Trainer Steven Flint predicted that Gigawatt would wire the field earlier in the week.

"Sometimes the blackboard works, sometimes it doesn't," he said. "The pace was slow but they came home fast."

Ten face off in grass route

Pat the Winner is the most experienced runner in a field of 10 entered in Sunday's feature race, a $30,000 allowance for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

A 5-year-old gelding, Pat the Winner finished fifth in his first start on the Fair Grounds turf, a 1 1/16-mile allowance race Dec. 3, but was coming off a layoff and has worked briskly since. The extra distance should suit his hard-closing style. He is also the only multiple winner in the field, with a 2-2-2 record in 14 turf starts.

Diplomatic Agent, a lightly raced 4-year-old by Deputy Minister, might provide the biggest challenge. Trained by Christopher Speckert, Diplomatic Agent demonstrated his potential on grass in only his third lifetime start Nov. 25, when he scored an impressive maiden victory at a mile on the Fair Grounds turf course. If he moves forward off that effort, he will be formidable in this race.

Prepster is stakes placed, finishing third in the $60,000 Caltech at Gulfstream Park last March.

Possess, a British-bred 4-year-old trained by Neil Howard, could be an upset candidate. He was 1-1-1 in three starts at last year's Fair Grounds meet and has a race over the track after being sidelined since May.

Abraham, a Louisiana-bred 4-year-old by Sky Classic, was no match for Mr. Sulu in the Champions Day Turf race, but might fit better in this spot.