Columbus, MN – Maria Alvarez is in her first full year as a licensed trainer and to say that she is making the most of it would be a big understatement. The 25-year-old is the trainer of record for the Williams Hernandez stable at Running Aces, and is very likely to soon be crowned the leading trainer for the 2022 season here.
Alvarez has posted some very impressive numbers in Minnesota this summer, with 49 winners so far from 169 starts, along with 27 seconds and 27 thirds for a UTRS rating of (.432), a win percentage of 29 percent, and purses of $501,468 to date.
The pair have been together as a couple for seven years and they make a great team around the barn as well. Alvarez was literally born into the harness racing business in Sacramento, CA. while Hernandez jumped into the sport shortly after coming to the U.S. from his native Guatemala about 12 years ago.
Williams started driving horses in 2012 and became a full time trainer around 2017. The pair followed the Cal-Expo/Running Aces circuit for several years before venturing east back in 2019. In the fall and winter months, they are based at Wingate Farm training center in Wind Gap, PA. When they headed east, it was brother Edward Hernandez who represented their interests at Running Aces for the next couple of seasons. Edward turned in very successful seasons at Running Aces in both 2020 and 2021.
The Hernandez team has worked hard to build strong relationships with some great owners over the past several years, and they credit those owners and partners with helping them be able to build a quality stable roster which of course is key to success at most any level in this business. Some of those partnerships include: Jose Cervantes, Anthony Beltrami, Terrence Smith, Triple Q Stables and KT Stables to name a few. They also train horses at Running Aces for Iowa-based owner/breeders Lanae Davelaar and Kati Sokolowski.
When planning their roster for the 2022 Running Aces meet, they knew they needed to bring some quality horses as there would be strong competition at the Minnesota track, which has had a steadily growing purse structure over the past five years and had announced record purse levels for this year’s meet.
“We wanted to bring some high quality horses for the Running Aces meet” said Hernandez in discussing the stable roster.
Caliber is a 5-year-old Sweet Lou gelding who they picked up at the Meadowlands Sale in late 2020. Hernandez recalled that “we were very interested in him as he had great breeding and had shown some big miles as a 3 year-old including a 1:48.4 mile in Kentucky.” The partnership group was able to be the final bidders and they were happy with the price. After winning three in a row for them in late November and early December of that year, Caliber suffered a bone bruise and would have to be away from the races for more than a year.
After giving him the necessary healing time, he was back in training early this year and made his first start back on March 19 at the Meadowlands where he paced a final quarter in :26 flat to check in seventh at the finish. The mile went in 1:49.2 and he wasn’t quite ready for that just yet, but he continued to build his strength with five more starts between late March and April before posting his first win of the year, with a gate-to-wire score in 1:50.2 on April 30. He was now ready to take on all challengers in Minnesota.
Caliber has been one of the many stars of the Alvarez/Hernandez barn this summer, posting seven wins, four seconds and four thirds in 16 starts so far. Alvarez shared that, “Caliber is an angel to work with and he has a very sweet disposition and he is also very professional when doing his work.”
Another huge star for the pair has been All American N, who, for the second straight year has been the king of the Open Trot at Running Aces. In 2021, under the tutelage of Edward, All American N won eight of 16 starts in Minnesota. This year, he has been nothing short of sensational again, with nine wins in 15 starts so far for the team.
Hernandez says that it was a bit of a stroke of luck that All American N came to be a part of their stable.
“We went to the sale in early 2021 and we had several horses that we were really interested in, but as the sale went on, one by one, those horses just kept going way too high, way over our budget. It looked like we were not going to get to buy anything,” said Hernandez.
But he didn’t want to leave the sale empty handed.
“I kept looking at this trotter that was coming up at the end of the sale, and I looked him up, he showed lots of breaks on his lines and he was distanced in his last start, but his breeding was great (Muscle Hill-Great Getaway-Dream Vacation).”
His partners were not as intrigued as he was.
“My partners really were not interested in him, Jose (Cervantes) wanted no part of the idea.” But Hernandez was able to be the final bidder on All American that day for $25,000. Cervantes regrets his decision to opt out of that partnership opportunity. It took Hernandez and Alvarez and their team a bit of time to work out the kinks with All American N, but indeed they did.
“A few adjustments here and there, mainly shoeing changes until we found the right formula,” said Hernandez.
Both Alvarez and Hernandez stated that All American N “has a huge personality” and that he knows he’s pretty special. They shared that he likes to be the boss and wants things his own way, and if you follow the routine that he likes then everything runs smooth. Hernandez added that “He is also a very smart horse, he takes care of himself pretty good.”
Other standouts for the team this year at Aces have included Curvsreasyondaeyes, who is a Minnesota-sired sophomore pacer and won his first eight races of the year and is owned by Kati Sokolowski, as well as pacing mare Gottalovemyshadow who has won five races here this summer, including the Ron Banks Memorial Free-For-All.
Amongst all of the success stories that they have had at Running Aces this year, none can compare with the joy and pride that they have felt with the early success of their very first baby that they bred themselves. He is out of a mare that they own and is very dear to them named Poorlittlerichgirl (they affectionately call her Jessica) who they also campaigned on the racetrack from 2015 to 2019 before retiring her for breeding. They paired her with a new stallion in the Minnesota program, Three Of Clubs (Mach Three) and they named him King Of Aces, which could prove to be a prophetic move on their part, as the bay gelding has now won two races in a row in the Minnesota-sired races and will likely be one of the favorites in Saturday’s (Sept. 17) $60,000 divisional Championships.
Although he is a typical 2-year-old, “green, frisky, impatient, immature and still has a lot to learn” shared Alvarez; they feel blessed that he has made it to the races, and the fact that he is doing well is just icing on the cake. Alvarez calls him their “bebito” and he is definitely regarded as their first child.
Hernandez also attributes much of the stable’s success to their training program.
“What has helped us, on top of having quality stock, is that I think we have a pretty rigorous training program, we push them somewhat because we want them to have that strength underneath them when the money is on the line, said Hernandez.”
“We also try to make sure we get the basics right too, like feeding and nutrition,” added Alvarez. “We use the best quality feeds we can find. We want them to always be healthy and strong.”
They have certainly come up with a winning formula at Running Aces in 2022. Alvarez, with her 49 wins, has an eight-win lead over former Aces training Champion Justin Anfinson with three racing nights left in the 2022 season.