Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Hernandez Dropped The Mic On ‘Em In New York – Horse Racing News

Though he’s won over 2,200 races since beginning his career in 2006, jockey Colby Hernandez just celebrated his first graded stakes victory last Thursday at Belmont Park. The 31-year-old Louisiana native celebrated the milestone when he piloted Change of Control to a 1 ½-length victory in the Grade 3 Intercontinental Stakes for trainer Michelle Lovell.

“I’d never been to Belmont, even visiting or anything, so when I first walked out on the track I was just like, ‘Wow, how do you even ride this?’” Hernandez recalled. “After I got on the horse I just settled right down. In the race all I kept thinking was just be patient, just be patient, just make your move at the right time.”

Initially blocked behind horses at the head of the lane, Hernandez found a seam and sent Change of Control on through. Then, just as he was switching his stick to his left hand to send the mare home, Hernandez accidentally dropped the whip.

“I just thought, ‘Oh no,’” he said, laughing good-naturedly. “Then I moved my hands on her and she went on, and I was like, ‘Okay, we’re safe, we’re okay now.’”

It may have been an embarrassing moment for Hernandez, Lovell explained, even though he won the race. She watched the race on television from her base in Louisville.

“Watching it, we were just so excited about the win,” Lovell said. “Then I said, ‘I don’t think he ever hit her.’ We watched the replay, and he drew it to his left hand and then crossed the wire without it.

“After the race, I called him and thanked him for going up to ride her. I told him losing the whip was his ‘mic drop’ moment, and he laughed so loud, just belly-laughed. Thank goodness he wasn’t embarrassed, but he has the best attitude and he’s such a genuine person.”

Hernandez is also based in Kentucky now, after moving his family to Louisville last summer. He’d previously ridden the Louisiana circuit, including at the Fair Grounds, Evangeline, Delta Downs, and Louisiana Downs, for the majority of his career, earning multiple leading rider titles.  

“I guess it was comfort, because I would do really well there every year, year-in and year-out,” Heranndez said.

Last spring, however, the pandemic’s effect on racing in that state forced the young rider’s hand.

The Fair Grounds ended its race meet early, and Evangeline was supposed to be the next track to open up, but management continued to delay the decision. Hernandez’ older brother, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Eclipse Award-winning jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., encouraged him to come to Kentucky as Churchill Downs was preparing to open for live racing.

“I stayed in an Air BnB in Kentucky, and my wife and kids came up to visit me, and we just liked it here,” Hernandez explained. “We put our house in Louisiana on the market after a month.”

Married to his long-time sweetheart Treva for three years, Hernandez has two children aged six and seven. Both quickly settled into life in Kentucky, although they were frustrated about the lack of things to do during the earliest days of the pandemic.

The kids went to school online, and Hernandez made time to take them to the local park on dark days, but they couldn’t attend races. They were able to play with their older cousins, riding horses at the elder Hernandez brother’s farm, and made new friends when they moved into a subdivision in September.

His son is especially interested in racing, Hernandez said, reminding him of his own childhood attending the races on weekends and any day there wasn’t school in Louisiana. The Hernandez brothers’ father, Brian Hernandez Sr., was a jockey for many years, and both Hernandez brothers began galloping Thoroughbreds at a training center when they turned 12 years old.

Colby Hernandez was still in high school when his big brother moved to Kentucky and won an Eclipse Award as leading apprentice jockey in 2004. He thought about following in his brother’s footsteps, and did for a short time after acquiring his own jockey’s license in 2006, but Colby found himself feeling homesick and went back to Louisiana.

He established a solid business in the state, riding multiple stakes winners, most notably a talented Louisiana-bred mare named Pacific Pink trained by Eddie Johnston. The 2012 daughter of Private Vow earned over $730,000 and won eight restricted stakes over her career, forever endearing herself to Hernandez.

“She had a running style like Zenyatta, you just take her back and make one run,” Hernandez said. “She was very easy to get along with, does whatever you ask her, never gives you any trouble, always gave me everything every time I asked her. She was a lot like Change of Control that way.”

Hernandez began riding horses for Lovell at the Fair Grounds several years ago, and picked up the mount on Change of Control there at the New Orleans in 2019. He also began to ride a Lovell-trained gelding named Just Might, who would go on to provide Hernandez with his first Breeders’ Cup mount in last fall’s Turf Sprint (finishing ninth). 

Lovell was ecstatic when Hernandez made the choice to move up to Kentucky last year, and he’s maintained the mount on both of her top horses. In fact, just two days after winning his first graded stakes with Change of Control in New York, Hernandez was back in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs after winning the listed Mighty Beau Stakes with Just Might.

“He’s a hard worker, he’s always got a great attitude, he never says ‘no’ when I need him to work one, and I just think he deserves all the opportunities he gets,” Lovell said. “He’s just a very natural rider, and he’s got the talent to do well here.”

“She’s given me a bunch of firsts, and I’m very grateful,” Hernandez said. “I started out better than I thought up here, and when I came back after the winter, business had built up even more. It’s home now.”

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