Puerto Rican Rafael Hernandez Joins Kentucky’s Jockey Colony

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Ranked in the Top 20 North American jockeys by wins over the last three years, Rafael Hernandez moved his tack to Kentucky last week hoping to make an impact on the local racing scene, Horse Racing Nation reports.

A native of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, Hernandez was inspired by his uncle, former jockey Heriberto “Herbie” Rivera Jr., to start riding at a young age.

“My uncle Herbie used to be a jockey,” Hernandez said of the 3,100-race winner. “He rode a lot at Thistledown and at Tampa Bay (Downs). When he stopped riding (in 2000) he became a steward and now he works for the Jockey’s Guild. He got me hooked; he taught me a lot and I liked watching him ride. I got my start in Tampa, too.”

The 29-year-old, a winner of more than 1,800 races since he began riding in 2004, made his September Meet debut Sunday, where he finished second aboard Red Neck Song for trainer Wayne Catalano. Hernandez said that trainer Wesley Ward was his gateway to the Twin Spires.

“I won seven out of eight races one day at Fairmount Park,” Hernandez said. “That day, I got a call from Wesley to see if I wanted to come ride for him, and I said yes; so here we are.”

Hernandez had three mounts on Friday’s card at Churchill Downs (he won the first race aboard the Ward-trainer Mountain Vow), will ride five at Kentucky Downs on Saturday and will finish out the weekend with one mount at Churchill on Sunday.

When asked about his biggest accomplishment to date, Hernandez replied “I haven’t won too many big races; I think I’ve won maybe four with $100,000-purses, so not that many. Coming from the cheaper tracks, they don’t have as many big purses. But I have won the riding title at Fairmount Park seven times.”

With two young kids back at home, Hernandez has his hands full when away from the racetrack.

“I’m a family guy,” Hernandez said. “I have two young kids, one is three and the other is five. They live in St. Louis with my wife, so that keeps me busy when I’m not riding.”

While the Puerto Rico native mentioned his uncle as his main influence, he listed Joel Rosario and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez as some riders he looks up to.

“I’ve always looked up to my uncle,” Hernandez said. “Other than him, I like watching Joel Rosario and Johnny V. They are some of the best.”

While Hernandez has ridden at several tracks, he says the horses are the biggest difference between Churchill Downs and his home track of Fairmount Park.

“I’ve ridden at Tampa Bay, Fairmount, Aqueduct, Pimlico, Hawthorne, Laurel and now Kentucky Downs and Churchill Downs,” Hernandez said. “The biggest difference at Churchill is the horses; there’s just a better quality of them here. It’s a big track with bigger purses, so hopefully I can make a name for myself here. I’ve liked it so far.”

Hernandez seemed modest when mentioning his future goals, with an emphasis on simply improving with each mount.

“My goal is just to get better and better with each race,” Hernandez said. “Breeders’ Cup and the Kentucky Derby are dreams for everybody though, so any of those would be nice one day. Who knows? I just want to keep working hard, and that’s it.”

In addition to Mountain Vow, Hernandez will ride Citiqueen in the second and Speedy Girl in the seventh, both for trainer William “Buff” Bradley.

For the original report go to http://www.horseracingnation.com/news/Rafael_Hernandez_Joins_Kentuckys_Jockey_Colony_123#

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