Del Mar Summer: For Top Jockey Agent Craig O’Bryan, Retirement Can Wait

Second generation jockey agent Craig O’Bryan called it a career a few years back after representing some of the game’s top riders for nearly a half century, including four Hall of Famers: Eddie Delahoussaye, Gary Stevens, Alex Solis, and Corey Nakatani. He grew up in the game as the son of the late George O’Bryan, who was agent for Manuel Ycaza, Laffit Pincay Jr., Johnny Adams and Don Pierce, among others. Craig O’Bryan’s son Brandon is the third generation of the family to ply hid trade as an agent.

Midway through 2020, O’Bryan got a phone call from fellow agent Tom Knust about a rider who was looking to move south from Northern California. Knust was representing another Bay Area transplant, Abel Cedillo, who had a made a successful transition to Southern California. Knust had just added a second rider, 2017 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice Evin Roman, so he couldn’t take on anyone else.

“Tom called and asked if I wanted to come out of retirement,” O’Bryan said. “My wife and I were traveling and having a  pretty good time, but I asked who the jockey was. When he told me Juan Hernandez, who I’d watched ride, I said, ‘It’s a done deal. Tell him to call me.’”

Hernandez hit the ground running, winning the Soi Phet Stakes aboard Galilean for John Sadler on his second day riding at the Los Alamitos meet in June 2020. He headed to Del Mar with momentum and wound up fourth in the summer meet standings behind Flavien Prat, Humberto Rispoli, and Cedillo.

Winner of four graded stakes prior to relocating to Southern California, Hernandez has added 68 graded stakes victories since, including a dozen Grade 1 races. He won his first Del Mar riding title in the 2021 fall meet. was the runaway leader last summer, and sits atop this year’s standings with 27 wins from 105 mounts, a strike rate of 26 percent. He was the leader the last several meets at Santa Anita, including this winter-spring meet when he doubled up the number of wins on his closest competitors.

“He rides 25 percent or over no matter where he is,” O’Bryan said of Hernandez. “Up north he was winning at 30 percent. And when he got here, he was winning on longshots — he wasn’t getting on 8-5 shots.”

O’Bryan said one of the reasons for the success the 31-year-old native of Veracruz, Mexico, has enjoyed is that “he’s as good a person as he is a rider.”

There is no drama surrounding Hernandez. He goes about his business quietly and respectfully. As a rider, he doesn’t seem to have a weakness, winning on dirt and turf, going short or long.

“Horses just run for him,” O’Bryan said. “Juan is really good out of the gate, he’s a good finisher, and he rides a smart race. He knows the other horses and other jockeys. He’s very cool and doesn’t panic. He won’t really get after a horse until inside the eighth pole.”

O’Bryan said a brief conversation with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert helped Hernandez get to the next level. “Baffert came to me last year and said, ‘I want to get in the Juan Hernandez business.’ I said, ‘That won’t be a problem.’”

Since then Hernandez has been aboard some of Baffert’s best horses.

O’Bryan has seen a lot of changes in his profession since hebegan booking mounts for his first rider, Manny Ortiz, in 1972.

“We used to have to do everything on foot,” he said. “You didn’t have telephones on the backside or frontside. You’d call a trainer at home and find out he’s on his way to the track, so (fellow agent) Scotty McClellan and I would wait in the parking lot for trainers to arrive and ask if we can ride for them. Cell phones have changed all that. And we used to have to sit around the racing office for hours during entries. Now we all go home, do our thing and have a conference call, which is 100 times better.”

Now, on to the races.

By the Numbers

Don’t want to sound like a broken record, but last week I wrote that the chalk parade continued in the fourth week of the summer meet. The abbreviated week five (with racing cancelled Aug. 20 because of the tropical storm) and first two days of week six continued that pattern. Of the 42 races run from Aug. 17-25,  there have been 19 winning favorites, 45.2 percent. For the meet, favorites have won at a 38.2 percent rate. The average payout during this last period is almost identical to the meet-to-date average, $12.61. Average field size for the meet is 8.9 horses per race.

The 42 races run from Aug. 17-25) were equally divided on dirt and turf. Interestingly, despite having nearly one more horse per race (8.6 vs. 7.7), the turf races have been more formful, with 11 winning favorites, 52.3 percent. Dirt races have been won by favorites 38 percent of the time.

After a period where speed dominated both on dirt and turf, the results have been more balanced recently, with horses seemingly able to win on the front end, while pressing the pace, in mid-pack, or closing from far back.

Who’s hot?

After going 0-for-19  at the start of the meet, trainer Michael McCarthy has won six of his last 19. Peter Eurton is even hotter, winning with eight of his last 15 starters. Among riders, Antonio Fresu has snuck up the standings, with 18 wins from 111 mounts. He’s won eight of his last 23, moving him to fourth behind Hernandez, Rispoli, and Hector Berrios.

The post Del Mar Summer: For Top Jockey Agent Craig O’Bryan, Retirement Can Wait appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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