BROWNSVILLE (KVEO) – The 1950s and 1960s were the golden ages of horse racing. Right in the middle of this exciting era for jockeys, was Brownsville native Herberto Hinojosa.
“[To] talk about Herbie is real easy,” said architect, artist, author, and sports fanatic Manuel Hinojosa. “Herbie is one of those guys that when you talked to him he would giggle at you, you know?”
Though the two, Manuel and Herbie, share the same last name, there is no relation.
Manuel discovered Herbie about a decade ago when he was researching athletes who are from the Rio Grande Valley.
Manuel owns the Doubleday Bar of Champions in Port Isabel, the unofficial RGV Sports Hall of Fame.
“He had a wonderful career and I was real fortunate to have met him,” said Hinojosa.
The pair became fast friends. Manuel became enamored with the sport of horse racing, one he didn’t know much of before meeting Herbie. It was through Herbie’s stories that Manuel became a true fan of the sport.
“I was able to go every weekend to his house and write down his amazing stories,” said Hinojosa.
Herbie died in December of 2019. But thanks to Manuel, his stories live on.
“It’s amazing how a person from Brownsville that starts at 8 years old riding horses, drops out of school, his parents weren’t really around, the men adopted him because he could ride horses,” said Manuel. “They would put him on these quarter horses, and there were a lot of horse races in the RGV Herbie was already well known, they called him ‘The Changuito.'”
“He would tell me a story and he would really he would just make it exciting. To the point that I almost didn’t believe him,” said Manuel.
Manuel did his own fact-checking. Going through newspaper archives and stats from horse races that occurred in the time period that Herbie would tell the story in. To Manuel’s surprise, every story checked out.
At the age of 16, Herbie was discovered at the San Benito tracks. He was taken to California, where he obtained a driving license. While there, he moved to race thoroughbred horses. Quite different than the quarter horses he learned on. But to no surprise, Herbie succeeded.
“While he was there, he road for Roy Rogers, Walt Disney, a lot of celebrities because celebrities had the horses. “
Again, Herbie was discovered. This time it was 1957 and he was taken to the tracks in the Midwest.
“In ’58 he was a rider at the Kentucky Derby at the Churchill Downs he got to beat the guys, he was put right in the middle of things and got to see the Kentucky derby event for the first time,” said Manuel.
Herbie rode into the 60s, gaining huge momentum in his career in 1962.
“The first race he got into that was of significance was a race against a guy by the name Eddie Arcaro,” said Manuel “[He] was the top rider of the time, well [Herbie] beats him badly and everyone says ‘who’s this guy Herbie?'”
Herbie was making names for himself and highly coveted to horse owners. He was working his way into riding in one of the biggest named races, the Kentucky Derby when he hit a roadblock. Herbie was fouled in a pretrial race for riding out of bounds, a foul that he felt was unfair and “made up” due to a disliking of him by the judge.
“He got so upset with him, they suspended him for 15 days which lapped into the Derby and he could not ride in the Derby,” said Manuel. “Sports Illustrated had a front-page cover and calls it the most controversial Kentucky derby trials ever. It says ‘Herbie Hinojosa was trying to race like John Wayne.'”
Herbie continued to race though and continued to win. He became the leading rider at tracks all around the country.
“Herbie went for the big, give me the big races against the big guys against the big horses that’s what I wanna race,” said Manuel. “So he was always in the paper, on all these races, nobody would do what he did, you know?”
Unlike most popular jockeys at the time, Herbie traveled to the United States. He went from state to state going up against the best of the best. Most jockeys at the time earned their credibility and fame by staying in one location and racing the same tracks. Not Herbie. He wanted to test them all, and he did.
Herbie chased his career for nearly five decades. He won 3,334 of the 25,160 thoroughbred races he rode. His mounts earned just under 18 million dollars.
“Herbie always raced with a desire to win, the determination was unreal,” said Hinojosa.