Jockey celebrates 27th birthday with $5M win

Updated: November 3, 2012, 10:52 PM ET
Associated Press

ARCADIA, Calif. -- Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. had more than one reason to celebrate at the Breeders' Cup on Saturday.

Not only did he turn 27 years old, he won the $5 million Classic about Fort Larned.

"This is the greatest birthday present ever," he said.

Hernandez rebounded this year after suffering a shoulder injury at Ellis Park last summer. He spent some of his recovery time cleaning stalls.

He won the Eclipse Award for the top apprentice jockey in 2004 after graduating high school and was aboard Rachel Alexandra for several of her early races. Hernandez has never ridden at Santa Anita, but he has caught the attention and the respect of other riders.

"I've known him since he started, and I knew he was going to win a race like this some time," said jockey Mike Smith, who was on runner-up Mucho Macho Man. "I just wish it hadn't been today."


FAN FAVORITE: Zenyatta isn't racing anymore, but she's still drawing crowds.

The retired super mare, who won the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic, became a fan favorite with her late-running style and provided a boost to a struggling sport.

On Saturday, people were still buzzing about Zenyatta outside a booth. Diana Orosco, 58, of Mission Viejo, Calif., stood in line and waited to get a picture signed by Smith, Zenyatta's jockey. Orosco said she started following Zenyatta after attending the 2008 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita when the mare won the BC Ladies' Classic.

"The reason I come to races now is because of Zenyatta," Orosco said. "She brought a lot of happiness to people. You never forget once you fall in love with a horse like her."

Zenyatta, 2010 Horse of the Year, won 19 of 20 career races before retiring in November 2010. She's pregnant with her second foal at Lane End's Farm in Kentucky. She gave birth to a colt sired by Bernardini in March after having an earlier miscarriage with the 2006 Preakness winner.


DELTA'S DOING FINE: Royal Delta is feeling fine after posting her second consecutive Ladies' Classic victory.

Trainer Bill Mott said the 4-year-old filly was doing great "with an exclamation point" after her gate-to-wire win on Friday. Mott said he was somewhat surprised Royal Delta jumped to the lead.

"That certainly wasn't the plan, but it was part of the plan," Mott said. "The plan was to let her run where she's comfortable, and she was comfortable in that spot."

Royal Delta's connections said they plan to run her in the $10 million Dubai World Cup next year and then have her close out her career at the Breeders' Cup.


STAR SIGHTINGS: Attending the Breeders' Cup has become somewhat of a tradition for Jerry O'Connell.

The actor has become a racing fan thanks to his father, Michael, who was with his son. Saturday's edition marked the 10th time O'Connell has attended the Breeders' Cup.

"This is the Super Bowl of racing," said the 38-year-old actor who is playing Herman Munster on a new TV series called "Mockingbird Lane." "It's like trying to figure out in an All-Star game who is going to be the best. That's what makes (handicapping) such a challenge."

O'Connell said he and his father did their homework Friday night, but his top choice for the day, Shackleford, finished seventh in the Dirt Mile. Father and son liked Mucho Macho Man in the Classic.

It was the first Breeders' Cup experience for other celebrities and sports stars who lounged in the clubhouse. St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson said he was recently bitten by the racing bug and admires the athletic ability of the thoroughbreds.

"It's a great chance to get up close to these horses and see them hitting speeds I can't even imagine," Jackson said. "It's just amazing."

Racing fans were treated later in the day to Grammy-winning singer Tony Bennett singing "The Best Is Yet To Come."


ROME IS WINNING: Sports broadcaster Jim Rome had plenty to crow about on Saturday.

Rome's Jungle Racing LLC co-owns the filly Mizdirection, who beat her male counterparts in the $1 million Turf Sprint.

Rome said he was numb after the win and said he had concerns whether Mizdirection was good enough to win, especially since the horse hadn't raced in six months.

Mizdirection was 20-1 morning line odds but was bet down to single-digits by race time. Rome didn't think his listeners he affectionately calls "clones" was responsible for the shift.

"I love my clones, but they don't roll like that," he said. "I don't think they can get 20-1 down to 5-1. I love `em and they have my back, but they don't roll like this."


ATTENDANCE AVERAGE: The on-track attendance at Santa Anita for the second day of the Breeders' Cup was 55,123.

That's down from last year's event at Churchill Downs that attracted more than 65,000 people and a decrease from three years ago when Santa Anita last hosted the Breeders' Cup. Nearly 59,000 people attended that year.

Saturday's wagering total across the nation was $98,782,239, compared to slightly more than $102 million last year. Track officials expected the wagering total would drop because of Superstorm Sandy. The figure was higher than 2009 when the total amount wagered at Santa Anita was nearly $94 million.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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