In 2004, Brian Joseph Hernandez, Jr. earned the Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice jockey. A mere 15-years later in Thursday’s fifth race at Fair Grounds, the Lafayette, Louisiana native captured career win number 2,000 aboard Afleet Roger for trainer James Baker.
The 3-year-old gelding Afleet Roger broke alertly and was well-placed early, sitting just off the pace as the first flight of leaders went a quarter in: 23.99. Down the backstretch, Hernandez made a middle move down on the inside, took the lead at the half-mile pole and opened up down the stretch, running away from the field to win the $12,500 maiden claimer by 9 1/4th lengths in a final time of 1:46.98 for the 1 1/16 miles journey.
“When I first started, I never really thought I’d get to 2,000,” Hernandez said after the race. “It just started to get brought up and all of a sudden they were counting it down and I was getting closer and closer. To get to 2,000 is a cool milestone to have on a resume, now I just want to keep working hard and reaching for more.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. rode his first winner in 2003 at Delta Downs in Vinton, Louisiana. Just three later, Hernandez was aboard Cielo Gold when winning the 2006 edition of the Indiana Derby (G2) giving the young jockey his first of 51 career graded stakes wins.
The highlight of Hernandez’s career came in 2012 when he guided the Ian Wilkes-trained Fort Larned to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Locally, he is best known for his work with Girvin, winner of both the 2017 Risen Star (G2) and Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) for trainer Joe Sharp.
“As a young rider you are just excited to go out there and win as many races as you can,” Hernandez said. “Even to this day, years later, it’s fun to go out and win. We just try to win as many races as possible and we’re always looking for the next top level horse.”