Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. The Derby has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 5, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brian Hernandez, Jr., scheduled to ride prime contender Art Collector, is featured this week. The son of 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini takes a perfect 4-for-4 record into the Run for the Roses, highlighted by recent emphatic victories in the Blue Grass Stakes and the Ellis Park Derby for trainer Tom Drury, Jr.
Hernandez, 34, is putting together a solid career after winning the Eclipse Award in 2004 as the outstanding apprentice in North America. The Louisiana native owns more than 2,000 career victories. He enjoyed his greatest moment when he captured the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Fort Larned.
Art Collector, a homebred for owner Bruce Lunsford, represents Hernandez’s third Derby mount. In his previous tries, Tom’s Ready finished up the track in 12th in 2016. McCraken ran eighth for Hernandez a year later.
PEDULLA: How does Art Collector compare to your other Derby mounts?
HERNANDEZ: He’s won two preps going into it. The others kind of earned their way in through seconds and thirds. Any time you can get to the Derby with the second choice, you’d have to say he’s our best mount so far.
PEDULLA: Do you feel he’s improving with every race?
HERNANDEZ: He seems to be. He’s had four races this year and his numbers seem to keep getting better and better. He looks like he’s on the upswing.
PEDULLA: What makes him special?
HERNANDEZ: I think just how intelligent he is. He’s a very, very intelligent horse. Anything we’ve asked him to do, he keeps jumping through hoops and finding more for us. I think that’s what separates him from other horses, just how intelligent he is.
PEDULLA: Is there anything he needs to improve on before the Derby?
HERNANDEZ: He’s 4-for-4 this year. We just kind of have to go into the Derby and trust him and let him find his way.
PEDULLA: Does he have to be on or close to the lead?
HERNANDEZ: No, he’s shown that before. His first race back this year, he went seven-eighths (of a mile) and he was about six (lengths) off of it and he was able to run them down. He’s a very versatile horse. The other day in the Ellis race, he was the best horse in the race and so we rode him like the best horse. We put him on the lead and he fended off all challengers.
PEDULLA: How much has Drury’s training meant?
HERNANDEZ: He’s done an unbelievable job. He trusts this horse and kind of lets him do his thing. Tom’s done an admirable job with him. He sets him up for each race and hopes the horse responds.
PEDULLA: I know you wore “Second Stride” on your riding pants in the Ellis Park Derby. Why is aftercare so important to you?
HERNANDEZ: My wife (Jamie) runs a small operation. She takes horses off the track and finds homes for them. It’s a big part of racing. After these horses are done running, they still have a lot of oomph left. They need a second job. They don’t want to just sit in a field and waste away. They want a job. Second Stride finds the right people for the right horses.
PEDULLA: Is Tiz the Law definitely the horse to beat in the Derby?
HERNANDEZ: Yes, of course. He’s the favorite. He’s 4 for 4 as well this year. And that Travers was something spectacular to witness.
PEDULLA: Is he beatable?
HERNANDEZ: They are all beatable. Every horse in the Kentucky Derby earned the right to be there. You sort of have to go into the race open minded and try to beat them all.
PEDULLA: Do you wait until the draw to map out a plan for the race?
HERNANDEZ: Once the draw comes about, we’ll sit down and talk it out, watch replays and figure out the best trip for our horse.
PEDULLA: Is the waiting hard for you? Does part of you wish the race was run yesterday?
HERNANDEZ: No. We’re going into it with the right kind of horse. We’re going to enjoy the next four weeks and have fun with it.
PEDULLA: What would a Derby victory mean to you?
HERNANDEZ: It’s huge. This is the race everybody remembers you for. If you jump up and win a Kentucky Derby, it gives you an elite status. This is what we get up every morning for, to find these kinds of horses.