The Fernandez brothers – Rafa and Alfonso – have a long history with Herringswell, and an even longer one working in the racing industry. The natives of Michoacan De Ocampo, Mexico, began working with horses when 16 and 13, respectively.
Rafa made the move to the United States first, and younger brother Alfonso followed when he turned 16. Both went to the racetrack and worked for trainers, spending time in New York and Delaware before making their way to Laurel Park where their paths crossed with Graham’s.
“I was working for Hammy Smith and went to Delaware Park one day and I saw my brother for the first time in a year,” Alfonso said. “He was working (for Graham) with Dave Rock. I didn’t know Dave, but I was playing and I said ‘You have a job for me?'”
Rock told him he could start the next day, but Alfonso preferred to give Smith proper notice. A week later, he put all of his belongings on the van from Laurel to Delaware Park and showed up at the Herringswell barn. That was 23 years ago.
Both spend most of their time on the road, traveling with strings to Florida and California in the winter, Kentucky every spring and Saratoga each summer.
“We go wherever our boss needs us to go,” Alfonso said before adding “But Fair Hill, this is nice. I like it here!”
And during their tenure, these gentlemen have handled some serious horseflesh.
Alfonso rattled off a list of names that reads a bit like a Herringswell Who’s Who: Bullsbay, Shared Account, Daring Dancer, Smart Bid…to name just a few.
A third Fernandez brother, Porfirio, worked for Herringswell for five years and was the groom for Animal Kingdom during his Kentucky Derby-winning season.
Alfonso is most proud of the 2-year-olds he’s handled who have gone on to become stakes winners – Adriano, Silver Reunion, Kitten’s Point and Ring Weekend are standouts.
This summer, another generation of the Fernandez family joined the crew when Rafa’s 19-year-old son Saul came aboard. He worked with his father and uncle at Saratoga before all three returned to Fair Hill after the meet ended. If he decides to follow in their footsteps, Saul is off to a great start – he’s learning from the best.
Left to right: Rafa Fernandez, his son Saul and Eliseo Ochoa.
Rafa Fernandez and Miss Temple City
Alfonso Fernandez shows off cover girl Miss Temple City
Saul Fernandez with Tale of Life (JPN)