BOZICH | Can Hernandez follow Borel's trail from Louisiana to De - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Can Hernandez follow Borel's trail from Louisiana to Derby winners' circle?

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Like Calvin Borel and others, Brian Hernandez grew up in Louisiana dreaming of winning the Kentucky Derby. Like Calvin Borel and others, Brian Hernandez grew up in Louisiana dreaming of winning the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Don’t look for the comfort of jockey Calvin Borel when making your pick for Kentucky Derby 143.

Borel, the rider who won the race three times between 2007-10, will not ride the Derby for the third consecutive year.

Gary Stevens? No mount. Robby Albarado? Broken leg. Corey Nakatani. Missing.

In a year when racing is searching for new riders to market, how about Brian Hernandez?

All he needs to do Saturday is navigate McCraken out of the 15th post position through the 20-horse field and into the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. Could happen. He’ll be one of the top five betting choices.

“He’s a neat little horse,” Hernandez said.

His winning smile, relentless optimism and a strong case of Derby Fever will take care of the rest. This is a guy who grew up riding a bike in Louisiana pretending that he was winning the Kentucky Derby.

Hernandez said that he has been averaging four hours of sleep this week – and not because he’s helping his wife chase their two young daughters.

“There’s not much sleeping going on right now because you’re thinking about the Derby,” Hernandez said. “You’re thinking about McCraken.”

He reports to the barns in the mornings to work horses. He returns in the afternoon to ride. The folks around Barn 26, trainer Ian Wilkes’ barn on the Churchill backstretch, will tell you that Hernandez will make one and sometimes two trips back to the barn – just to make certain that McCraken is feeling as wonderful as Hernandez is feeling.

“Brian is tremendous,” Wilkes said. “You can tell he’s excited and focused. We’re glad he’s on our horse.”

Insomnia is the typically the way it unfolds for jockeys who have yet to win their first Kentucky Derby. Hernandez, 31, has been aboard more than 12,000 horses in his career, a career that Hernandez began as an apprentice jockey at Churchill Downs.

McCraken is his second Derby mount. He finished 12th last year aboard Tom’s Ready.

“I started here with a bug,” Hernandez said. “I rode against guys like Pat Day. You’ve just got to bide your time and hopefully one time the owners find the right horses for you.

“Now luckily we’re in the situation with the better horses. It’s like anything else. Just like if you’re playing baseball: You’ve got to go through the minor leagues to get to the big leagues.”

In 2017, Hernandez ranks 20th nationally in earnings at over $2.5 million. His mounts have won 31 of 254 starts, a modest 12 percent.

That does not read like the past performance chart of a Derby winner, but do not tell that to Wilkes. The jockey had his choice of several Derby contenders but Hernandez chose McCraken.

They’ve been some team, especially at Churchill Downs, where the colt won his first three races by a combine 7 ½ lengths last fall.

“You’d have to believe he likes it here,” Hernandez said.

Borel (three Derby wins). Kent Desormeaux (also three). Eddie Dellahoussaye (a pair). Craig Perret (one). There’s a strong tradition of Louisiana-bred jockeys doing great things in this race.

Hernandez knows that tradition. Wants to enhance the tradition. Would be flattered to join a club that includes those guys.

“Growing up in Louisiana, it’s just part of our lives,” Hernandez said. “We love horses, love the game.”

On Saturday, Hernandez will try to join the club.

“It would mean everything,” he said. “It would mean the world.”

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