canada africa partner reservation How I Scraped the Paint to Win the Kentucky Derby on Mystik Dan – Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. in his own words | Topics: Kentucky Oaks, Kentucky Derby, Brian Hernandez, Mystik Dan, Brian Hernandez Jr.

How I Scraped the Paint to Win the Kentucky Derby on Mystik Dan – Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. in his own words | Topics: Kentucky Oaks, Kentucky Derby, Brian Hernandez, Mystik Dan, Brian Hernandez Jr.

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Photo finish: Mystik Dan (Brian Hernandez, other side) wins the Kentucky Derby in a close finish. Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs

Brian Hernandez shares how he scored a thrilling Kentucky Derby win and completed a historic double after his Oaks victory over Thorpedo Anna

After landing the Kentucky Oaks on Friday with Thorpedo Anna, Brian Hernandez Jr. only the eighth jockey to complete the Oaks-Double double in the same year with Mystik Dan.

Both horses were trained by Kenny McPeek, the first trainer to ride the double since ‘Plain Ben’ Jones in 1952.

Hernandez, 38, is the first rider to complete the feat since Calvin Borel in 2009 – and he imitated ‘Bo-Rail’ with a ride down the rails at 18-1 odds Mystik Dan, who nosed in a thrilling finish held from late-running pair Sierra Leone and Forever Young. After the race, Hernandez explained what it felt like to make history under the Twin Spiers in the 150th Kentucky Derby.

‘It still hasn’t sunk in’

It still hasn’t sunk in – it’s unbelievable. We went into the weekend thinking we had good chances, very big chances, both Friday and Saturday.

And to let the horses do it for us… we really have to thank all the guys in the barn. They put so much work into this to have these horses ready on days like today and yesterday.

Like I said, I don’t know how long it will take for it to sink in, but it’s definitely a surreal moment right now.

I have been riding here in Kentucky for the past twenty years and as a young kid from Louisiana I had the privilege of sitting in the same corner as Calvin Borel. So I got to see him compete in those derbies all those years.

While Mystik Dan was in the three hole, I was there watching some of his drives between the Super Saver and Mine That Bird. I said, ‘You know what? We’re going to roll the dice.’

And that’s the nice thing about Kenny (McPeek). He confides things like that to me. We thought we had the right type of horse to take him on such a trip. So we quickly found our spot under the wire the first time. From then on he was so nice and comfortable all the way. I was really proud of him for being able to just cruise around.

Hugging on the rails: Brian Hernandez and Mystik Dan claim the 150th Kentucky Derby.  Photo: Churchill Downs / John GallagherWhen I called for him to hit the spot I needed right before we stood up, to get a little separation on the deep, deep closers, he did it. He jumped off quickly and we were able to get that separation, and that made all the difference in them not hitting him in the wire.

‘A pretty tight spot’

Around the first bend we had to get into a pretty tight spot. Mystik Dan, he got through it with no problems. So once I went through that point, I thought, okay, now I know he’s going to go through some tight spots – which we already knew coming back from the southwest.

And then just down the back, the nice thing about really talented horses, they went 46.3 for us. But my horse, he just rode so nice and comfortably, it never felt like we were going that fast.

Once we got to the second exit, everyone outside of Track Phantom started piling up and piling up. I had a nice little pocket there. I was like, ‘well, we’re just going to sit here and let them pile up.’

When Track Phantom was only half a step away from the rail, we were able to get through that a bit. We may have removed a little bit of the interior fence, but that’s okay!

Once he cut the corner, he got a little distance between the closers who were forced to go around the horses which were tiring, and he was able to keep them at bay.

When we got to the eighth pole and he was still running, I just had my head down while driving. Three jumps before the wire, I didn’t see them at all. And then, right at the wire, they got a late start, and I thought, ‘Oh God, did we win the Kentucky Derby?’ I asked the outrider and he said, “We think you won, but they haven’t officially said it yet.”

‘The longest two minutes in sports’

It lasted about two minutes, and when they finally said, ‘Yes, you just won the Kentucky Derby,’ I thought, oh, wow, that’s a long two minutes. Yes, those were the longest two minutes in sports – from the fastest two minutes to the longest by far.

With Thorpedo Anna we knew she was fast. So looking at the race it seemed like the only other real speed in the race was on our outside. I thought when Kenny told me to go ahead and let her run to the first turn, I thought we could get the lead. She’s such a naturally talented filly that she went fast, but she caught her off guard a bit.

In Mystik Dan’s case, a big thing that helped us was Wednesday: Kenny decided we were going to go ahead and put him out of the gate and just let him go a sixteenth of a mile, an eighth of a mile.

Mystik Dan also helped us in that situation. Usually, if you try to do that with a horse a few days before the race, they will overdo it a little bit.

The nice thing about him is that he starts there sharply and then listens to you. He’ll get back to you right away. Just like today, he could break so sharply, which we needed. In a field with twenty horses you can’t be a little flat-footed, because then you will be shaken back and forth.

‘Go forward, go forward, go forward’

When he broke as sharply as he did, he was so nice and comfortable all the way there on the rail. I was smiling the whole time because it’s a great feeling when you have the horse underneath you and you know they’re going forward, moving forward, moving forward.

Like I said, when he went home and got the split, I thought, oh, wow, this can’t possibly happen again. And he managed to keep them at bay. He was that good today.

Thorpedo Anna wins the Kentucky Oaks under Brian Hernandez.  Photo: Churchill Downs / John GallagherI’ve been very lucky. Quite a few years ago – it’s probably seven, eight years ago now – Kenny started using me in New Orleans. We had success early on and it’s been nothing but successful since.

A lot of this goes back to my agent Frank (Bernis). We got together twelve years ago, and at that time we were both struggling a bit, just trying to make ends meet. We’ve made a pretty good career driving for Kenny over the last seven, eight years.

Like he said, it wasn’t a drama. We’re going out for a maiden 30 or the Kentucky Derby. Not many instructions are given. It’s more like he lets me go out and run my race.

I’m fortunate that the guys in the barn have these horses so well prepared and so ready to go that we learned the program. With the first-timers and horses like that, we know they don’t have to win right away. If they’re really good, they’ll just overcome the little things… they’ll get into trouble and things like that, and they’ll be able to overcome them.

But for the most part, it’s all about the development of the horse, something I’ve learned throughout my career just by riding. That makes it a lot more fun. It makes it fun to go there every morning and see how these horses develop and be part of how they keep getting better. That’s a testament to the work that Kenny and all those guys do in the barn.

I think my riding style also suits Kenny’s training style, where we let the horses develop and take you around there and try to find the journey with them.

It’s just been a great relationship, and I’ve been lucky enough to end up in a good place.

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