Kentucky Derby jockeys work shift at Raising Cane’s

Arash Markazi -The Sporting Tribune
Kentucky Derby jockeys Tyler Gaffalione, Joel Rosario and Brian Hernandez Jr. served Raising Cane’s to race fans in Louisville.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tyler Gaffalione was the first one to arrive at the Raising Cane’s about 20 minutes southeast of Churchill Downs. He was soon followed by fellow jockeys Brian Hernandez Jr. and Joel Rosario.

The only thing that was on Gaffalione’s mind, however, was finishing ahead of Hernandez, Rosario and the rest of the field on Saturday during the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby.

This is Gaffalione’s seventh time riding in the Kentucky Derby but it is easily his best chance to win it all. His previous six rides were longshots of at least 14-1 or greater and none finished better than seventh.

He enters Saturday’s Kentucky Derby with Sierra Leones, who sits just behind Fierceness as the current morning line favorite. Sunny Leone is also at the top of the points list and coming off an impressive Blue Grass Stakes victory.

“I love my horse, Sierra Leone, going into the Kentucky Derby,” Gaffalione said. “He’s done nothing wrong this year. He seems to be improving each race so it’s all system go right now.”  

Kentucky Derby jockeys Tyler Gaffalione, Joel Rosario and Brian Hernandez Jr. served Raising Cane’s to race fans in Louisville.

While Sierra Leone is one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby, Rosario’s horse, Track Phantom, and Hernandez’s horse, Mystik Dan, are both 20-1 longshots. But that doesn’t mean much to Rosario, who was elected last week to the Hall of Fame.

The 39-year-old jockey has a knack for getting the most out of his horses, winning the Kentucky Derby in 2013 with Orb and finishing in the top five eight times, including last year’s fourth-place finish with Disarm, who was a 27-1 longshot.  

“I’m very excited,” Rosario said. “I think we can win the Derby but we’ll see what happens.

Before Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, Gaffalione, Rosario and Hernandez got together at a Raising Cane’s in Louisville to work a shift, serving up box combos of chicken fingers, crinkle-cut fries, Cane’s Sauce, Texas toast, coleslaw and fountain drinks to fans.

“This is exciting, it’s definitely a new experience,” Gaffalione said. “I’ve never done anything like this before but I’m going to improve my cooking when I get home.”

Chicken fingers for all

As the trio of jockeys walked around Raising Cane’s, taking pictures and signing autographs, they mentioned the bond they share that is unique to their sport compared to others.  

“We all have mutual respect for one another,” Hernandez said. “We’re friends but at the same time we compete against each other and we’re competing at a very high, dangerous level so you have to have the trust in the guy sitting on the horse next to you.

“His life is in your hands and my life is in his hands so you have to be respectful of each other and have the respect of each other and have that friendship as well. It’s a bond because we spend a lot of time together in the jock’s room every day. We’re friends and competitors at the same time.”  

After passing out chicken fingers and roses for an hour, Gaffalione, Rosario and Hernandez smiled as they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways mere days before the biggest race of their career.

“I don’t really have words for what it would be like to win the Derby,” Gaffalione said. “It would be a dream come true.”