Jock Talk: Rafael Hernandez – Canadian Thoroughbred
Woodbine’s leading jockey Rafael Hernandez won 129 races in the abbreviated season. The jockeys‘ race for the 2020 meet title at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario, went right down to the wire, with Rafael Hernandez edging out Justin Stein in what’s been a heated battle for top honors all season long.
Building blocks: “This is going to be my fifth season here at Woodbine. I really like it here. It was hard the first year because I was new and no one really knew me. I had to build my trust with trainers and owners. After I started getting more opportunities on the horses, I appreciated that because it showed they did trust me. It’s hard to get into Woodbine because it’s a huge riding colony. It’s tough to be the new jockey, coming to a new city, and one really knows you. It was hard for me, but the work that my agent [Tony Esposito] and I put in has paid off.”
Team effort: “With each year, we started to do better and better. I can’t do anything without the horses, the trainers, assistant trainers, owners, exercise riders, and grooms. They all have helped me. If I told you it was one person or one horse that has helped me do well, it would be a lie. It’s everyone. Everybody is part of it. The grooms don’t get as much credit as they should. They make sure the horse is sound and ready.”
Teamwork: “My agent, he always gives me 100 percent. We clicked right away. We became friends, and so did our families. We hang out together, but we never talk about business.”
Praise for Canada: “I love my family, and I love to go out, even if it’s for a walk. I like to go camping. I also like exploring Canada. I’ve been to Quebec City and Montreal. I like going out and seeing Canada, seeing the wildlife, and all the beautiful nature. I like the way Canada is, the multiculturalism it has.”
International scene: “You see so many countries and cultures represented in the jocks’ room. There are riders from Brazil, from Barbados, from Mexico, from Japan – there are people everywhere. I love that so much. When we are together, you learn something from everyone. There are so many different riding styles. You learn from all of that too.”
Top of his game: “It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to start on time this year, but whenever we do, my goal is to do my best. That’s what everyone in the room wants to do. When I first started, I knew it would take hard work to be the leading rider. The second year I was here, Eurico [former champion rider, Rosa Da Silva] took me aside and told me I was doing a good job and that my time would come one day. I haven’t forgotten that. He and I have become good friends. I appreciate every jockey because I learn different things from each one, making you a better rider. Tony always tells me, ‘Do your best and don’t worry about the rest.’ And that’s what I do. I don’t want to put that pressure on myself. If you feel pressure, I believe the horse can feel that. They feel everything. When I’m relaxed, they know I’m going to give them my best.”