Jorge Hernandez looking for foothold at Monmouth

Jockey Jorge Hernandez has just one mount when Monmouth Park adds Friday racing to its calendar with an eight-race card this weekend, and it illustrates perfectly what the 32-year-old native of Santiago, Chile, is going through in his first summer at the Jersey Shore track.

For all of his success so far at the Monmouth Park meet – he is 6-for-16 (38 percent) with a second and three thirds – getting trainers besides fellow Chilean Mario Serey, Jr., to give him a leg up has been a challenge.

But his one mount on Friday’s card is for Wayne Potts, and Hernandez hopes that’s a sign that his early impact is finally getting noticed.

“When I get opportunities I know I can do well,” said Hernandez, whose teenage son Jorge translates for him. “Mario Serey has given me good opportunities and I am taking advantage of that. I am hoping other trainers are seeing that.”

A winner of 960 races in Chile, including Group 1, 2 and 3 stakes races, Hernandez came to the United States last year to ride at the urging of  Claudio Gonzalez (also a native of Chile), who has won the past two Monmouth Park training titles.

For now, Serey – currently the track’s leading trainer – has been his main client, in part because he has served as the agent for Hernandez’ father, who was also a jockey in Chile.

“I didn’t know Jorge in Chile but I knew his father,” said Serey. “That’s why I helped him when he came to the United States.”

It has been a good collaboration, since Hernandez has ridden all six of his winners for Serey. Overall, Serey has 11 wins at the meet.

“He just needed an opportunity,” said Serey. “Now people are talking about him at Monmouth Park.”

Hernandez said a large part of his challenge to get more mounts has been the language barrier, since he speaks and understands limited English. But he also made a major change that should boost his career.

Known as El Bomba in Chile for his explosive riding style, Hernandez recently started staying at the Jersey Shore, which enables him to work horses in the mornings Thursday through Sunday at Monmouth Park.

Prior to the move he was living in Maryland and driving up on the weekends to ride with no other interaction at Monmouth Park.

Jorge Hernandez
Jockey Jorge Hernandez earned his first victory in the U. S. in February 2023. Photo by The Racing Biz.

“It was an odd situation in the beginning,” said Jose Santos, Jr., Hernandez’ agent. “He was living in an apartment in Laurel and he was just coming in to ride at Monmouth Park. Two weeks ago I told him `we’re doing really well. I need you around here more.’ So he got a place to stay here and he is working horses in the mornings at Monmouth Park.

“The reception has been good. He’s really a talented rider. He’s pretty established in South America.”

Hernandez, who started riding in 2009, comes from a family of jockeys. His father and grandfather both rode. But shifting his tack to the United States meant starting over.

“It has been difficult at times here because I don’t know the language,” said Hernandez. “But it is getting better. I understand more and I am more comfortable in the United States.

“People did not know who I was when I first came here. With time and the success that I have had, people are noticing now. The next step for me is to get more opportunities from other trainers.”

Even by jockey standards Hernandez is small, standing just 4-7.

But his strength is obvious and he sees his size as an advantage in one respect.

“I never have to fight with my weight,” he said. “I know a lot of jockeys struggle with weight but I am lucky that way. I don’t have weight issues. With my size and the way I am built I think it gives me better balance on a horse.”

Overall, Hernandez has won 19 races from 151 mounts this year, having ridden in Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia. In his two years in the United States he has won 44 races.

“Riding and winning stakes races is my next goal,” Hernandez said. “I just need the opportunities. I hope people are seeing I try my best every time I ride.”