Kentucky Derby victory aboard Mystik Dan provides signature win for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

Brian Hernandez Jr. celebrates in the winner's circle after riding Mystik Dan to win the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(AP/Jeff Roberson)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Brian Hernandez Jr. will need a minute to digest his signature victory in the 150th Kentucky Derby.

Maybe even more time since the milestone derby capped the best weekend of a jockey career spent mostly under the radar.

The Louisiana native rode Mystik Dan to an epic win Saturday at Churchill Downs, sliding past favorite Fierceness along the rail at the final turn and holding off Sierra Leone and Forever Young by a nose in an epic three-horse photo finish. Hernandez wasn’t even sure he had won until seeing the replay and keeping his eyes glued to the flat screen that showed the continuous loop.

“I’m like, woo, I think we just won the Kentucky Derby,” the 38-year-old said. “But then those horses, they were so far out there, you couldn’t really see them. And then they surged so quickly.

“I was like, ‘Oh man, I hope we won. I hope we won.’ And then when they hung up our number, it was just instant relief.”

Hernandez’s derby victory aboard Mystik Dan at 18-1 odds came a day after he rode filly Thorpedo Anna to a wire-to-wire rout by 4 3/4 lengths in the 150th Kentucky Oaks. That made him the first jockey to complete the Derby/Oaks double since Hall of Famer Calvin Borel achieved the feat aboard Mine That Bird and filly Rachel Alexandra, respectively, in 2009. Kenny McPeek became the first trainer to earn the double since Ben Jones in 1952.

“We came into the weekend thinking we had really good chances both Friday and Saturday,” Hernandez added. “To have the horses pull it off for us, we really have to thank all the guys back in the barn.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take to sink in. It’s definitely a surreal moment.”

Hernandez’s victory was fitting since he studied Borel’s derby wins aboard Mine That Bird and Super Saver (2010), along with being around him during 20 years of racing in Kentucky. Those lessons paid off as he broke through after four derby finishes ranging from eighth to 12th, including 11th last May on Sun Thunder.

His seminal moment shouldn’t have been shocking considering Hernandez already had an Eclipse Award to his name as top apprentice rider in 2004 along with a Breeders’ Cup Classic win in 2012 with Fort Larned. He also was third in the Preakness two years ago with Creative Minister and has a slew of graded stakes wins.

Winning the Kentucky Derby brings a whole different type of recognition, along with a sparkling title that will precede Hernandez for the rest of his life. McPeek asserted immediately afterward that the rider can no longer be considered underrated after a “brilliant” ride and called the gutsy inside path taken to victory typical for the jockey.

“He knows what to do there,” McPeek said. “I always had a world of confidence in him. Rarely second-guess anything he does.”

However, the victory created a travel issue for Hernandez, who had planned on head to Louisiana on Sunday morning for a jazz festival. It’s a switch he was more than willing to make after two remarkable days that demonstrated what the right mounts can yield.

“You know, it’s horse racing, it’s not jockey racing,” said Hernandez, who planned to celebrate with his wife on Saturday night. “Just about any jockey out there, if they have the right horse, they can get them to the winner’s circle. You just you have to be willing to put in the time and the effort to find the right horses.”


This story has been corrected to show Hernandez had one Breeders’ Cup victory, not two.


AP Kentucky Derby coverage:

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up