05/02/2016 1:36PM

The wait is finally over for Hernandez


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Although just 30 years old, Brian Hernandez Jr. has already done more as a rider than most jockeys could hope to accomplish with a full life in the sport.

The Eclipse Award-winning apprentice of 2004, he has become one of the most sought-after jockeys in his native Louisiana and in Kentucky, where he has spent the past 10-plus years plying his trade. He has also won North America’s richest horse race, the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, guiding Fort Larned to a front-running victory in 2012 at Santa Anita.

Now on Saturday, he finally gets to fulfill every jockey’s dream when he rides in the Kentucky Derby for the first time. He will be aboard longshot and Louisiana Derby runner-up Tom’s Ready.

“I’m excited about it, of course,” he said Monday on the Churchill backstretch.

Although he doesn’t have experience in the race, he has been watching and listening to the recently retired three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel.

“Since I’ve come here to Churchill, I’ve been in the corner of the jocks’ room next to Calvin Borel,” he said. “So, I was kind of able to experience that with him. Just watching him, I learned a lot about the racetrack from him.”

The biggest thing he has picked up from Borel and others, including Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger, is the importance of being in a contending position by midstretch.

“You’re not going to see a lot of Derby winners make a big closing kick from the eighth pole home,” he said.

Still, he seems likely to ride Tom’s Ready with patience early in the Derby, knowing the colt’s tendency to be eager at times.

“I’ve figured him out to get him to settle the first part so he doesn’t overdo it,” he said. “Like in the Louisiana Derby, he wanted to be a little aggressive, but I got him to settle, and once we did that, he got in a nice rhythm, and he picked up the pieces and ran a big race.”

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Hernandez said he feels confident riding Tom’s Ready for trainer Dallas Stewart, who saddled longshot runner-up finishers in the 2013 and 2014 Derbies with Golden Soul and Commanding Curve.

That confidence is reciprocated by Stewart. He said he knows Hernandez will be ready.

“He’s a family man,” Stewart said of Hernandez, whose wife, Jamie, is pregnant with their second child. “He will be at home resting at nighttime, and then he will come out here like a gorilla, ready to win it.”