Julio Hernandez shifting tack to Delaware Park

Jockey Julio Hernandez has made a name for himself as one of the best and most consistent jockeys at Penn National. Currently second among riders there in wins, he’s been in the top four riders every year since 2018, with titles in 2018, 2021, and 2022.

But don’t look to see too much more of the 32-year-old in Grantville. When Delaware Park opens May 15, he’ll be a regular there, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll shift tack to Laurel Park when Delaware closes.

“I got really good reports him, about how professional he is, how he’s just a professional and he wins,” said Mark Mace, who will be Hernandez’s agent. “I talked to a couple of the other trainers around [Delaware], and they all liked him. So I thought he would fit really well down here.”

“I talked to my wife and thought about it a couple days,” said Hernandez of his decision. “It was a no-brainer.”

The way Hernandez sees it, Delaware’s recent announcement that, if there is sufficient demand, it will remain open for training year-round, only enhanced its attractiveness. After the Delaware meet ends, he can use the connections he’s built to ride wherever the horses may go; and Maryland provides a robust schedule and solid purses, as well.

Hernandez, a native of Puerto Rico, has won more than 1,500 races while generating over $25 million in purse earnings in a career that began in 2011, following his graduation from the island’s famed jockey school, the Escuela Vocacional Hipica. He began riding regularly at Penn National midway through 2014, earning the first of what would be 52 wins in Grantville that year aboard Go Liberty Go May 22.

Hernandez gradually inched up the standings over the next several years until his breakthrough 2018 season. He won a track-leading 178 races at Penn National that year, with his mounts earning nearly $3 million. Both figures led all riders at the track.

That same year, 2018, he teamed up with a Bernie Houghton-trained filly named Imply to win two stakes. The following year they would win three more, and all told the duo earned nearly $770,000 together.

“I liked that filly. She gave me all my good moments,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully, I can find a couple more like her.”


Hernandez has excelled on both turf and dirt at Penn National, though his numbers on the lawn are particularly notable. His win percentages on both surfaces are equal at 18% — though turf races typically have bigger fields – while his earnings per start on the grass far exceed those on the main track.

Julio Hernandez
Jockey Julio Hernandez at Penn National. Photo courtesy of Julio Hernandez.

“The numbers don’t lie: I love the turf,” Hernandez said. “I can make it happen on the dirt, but I do love the turf.”

“He’s well-established in the Mid-Atlantic,” Mace added. “People know him around here. I don’t really have to sell him; he’s a good overall rider.”

Hernandez lives with his wife, Amanda Hernandez, and two children. That to some extent complicated the rider’s decision-making process.

“It’s a little tough because of the family,” he said of his decision to branch out. “She made me to buy an RV, and I’m going to leave it over there [at Delaware], and I’m gonna work four days a week. The rest of the week, I’m going to come here because they don’t want to move yet.”

That said, though, Hernandez said his wife’s support is vital to his new path.

“She’s on my side,” he said. “She told me that she knows what I’m doing, and that I have to go for it, and we’ll work around it.”

Hernandez is named on three horses on opening day at Delaware and another on the second day of the meet, four mounts with four different trainers. Mace sees it as a start to something that could work very well, indeed, for his new client.

“Normally you lose the business. When you come to Delaware, you do it for five or six months, and then the business goes in 10 different directions,” the agent said. “Now that Delaware is going to stay open for training year-round, you can build your business up here and not lose it at the end of the meet. That’s the beauty about it.”