Preakness Stakes

Preakness up next for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. after winning Kentucky Derby with Mystik Dan

Hernandez and Mystik Dan will chase another Triple Crown victory at the Preakness Stakes on Saturday

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Brian Hernandez Jr. spent the leadup to the Kentucky Derby watching replays of winning rides by fellow jockeys to see what it would take to get the job done with Mystik Dan, particularly those of Hall of Famer Calvin Borel.

The 2010 Derby Borel won with Super Saver stuck out as the blueprint to hang tight to the rail, get the lead and cross the finish line first.

“We just needed to be able to save every inch of ground,” Hernandez said. “That’s what we were able to do."

Hernandez and Mystik Dan made Borel proud with one of the most efficient, masterfully made trips in recent history, traveling just 8 feet more than the 1¼-mile Derby distance measured from the furthest inside part of the track, according to GPS data calculated by Equibase. It was evidence of just how talented the 38-year-old is, and he's back aboard Saturday in the Preakness looking to add a second Triple Crown victory to his resume and establish himself in the top tier of jockeys currently riding.

“As long as you don’t let the pressure get to you, I think, is the biggest thing,” Hernandez told The Associated Press. “You just kind of go out there every day, work, just keep showing up and when you get good horses like we have right now, you just have to enjoy them and just let them do their job. That’s the biggest thing is just trusting the horse and letting him carry you along.”

Trusting Hernandez at Churchill Downs delivered Kenny McPeek his first Derby victory and made him the first trainer since 1952 to win that race and the Kentucky Oaks in the same year. That paid off because Hernandez guided Mystik Dan to a win by a nose in the race's closest finish in more than three-quarters of a century.

"Definitely the ride that Brian put on was the, what, 4 inches difference that we needed," McPeek said.

Retired jockey Donna Brothers thinks Hernandez did a great job getting inside position in a field of 20, staying close but not too close to the leaders, showing patience and being “brazen” by shooting through the tight seam available between the closest horse and the rail. Fellow NBC Sports analyst Jerry Bailey, a two-time winning jockey in each leg of the Triple Crown, praised Hernandez for doing his best impression of Borel.

“He kind of just forced his way in there,” Bailey said. “If you can get your neck up in there, then you can get your whole body up in there if your horse is running. He had a plan, No. 1, and I think he executed it to perfection.”

Anything short of perfect would have handed the race and the bed of roses to Sierra Leone or Forever Young, the rivals who stormed down the stretch but could not catch up to Mystik Dan before the wire. As Brothers said, "It definitely made the difference between winning the Kentucky Derby and losing the Kentucky Derby.”

And probably the difference in even getting to the Preakness, where Hernandez and Mystik Dan are now favored with the spotlight shining brightly on them.

“It’s going to be a whole different ballgame,” Hernandez said. “There’ll be a little more pressure on us. We’re going to have lot more eyeballs on us, but at the same time, we’ve already proven that, hey, we’ve won the Kentucky Derby, so we’re going into the Preakness full of confidence and just really, really proud of our horse.”

So, now what? For his next trick, Hernandez will try to again put Mystik Dan in position to win, this time in a field of eight, at Pimlico Race Course on a track that's different than Churchill Downs.

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Rather than trying to replicate his Derby trip, Hernandez may copy a little of what Robby Albarado, now Mystik Dan's exercise rider, did for McPeek in winning the 2020 Preakness with filly Swiss Skydiver.

“I think he’s going to give a similar ride,” Albarado said. “Obviously he loves the inside, this horse, the inside trip. You don’t have to be on the inside, but he loves the inside and I think with a good trip here, which Brian should give him, he’s going to be very competitive."

Albarado, a veteran of more than 5,000 races, said he does not need to give any advice to Hernandez, whom he called “a very talented, talented rider. He’ll have a couple audibles just in case something happens.”

Likewise, McPeek insisted he won't overcoach Hernandez in the next biggest race of his life.

“He usually makes the right decision,” McPeek said. “He knows the horse, and he’s a great rider, and he’s proven that and we’ll let him go out there and do his thing.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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