Team Valor International racing partners and Barry and Kathleen Irwin presented Mercedes Hernandez with the John R. Velazquez Scholarship on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Hernandez, an aspiring veterinarian, met the Irwins and Velazquez in the Belmont Park winner’s circle for a ceremonial check presentation with Elisabeth Jensen, president and executive director of The Race For Education, the Kentucky-based non-profit that oversees the two scholarships that Team Valor and the Irwins fund for students with an interest in an equine-related vocation. Team Valor racing partners contribute 1 percent of their racetrack earnings for the scholarships, and the Irwins match that amount.
Hernandez’ scholarship will total $20,000 over the course of her studies. She is an incoming freshman at SUNY-Cobleskill with a major in Equine Science. Her father is a groom at Belmont for trainer John Terranova II.
Velazquez, of course, combined with Team Valor’s Animal Kingdom to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby. The scholarship in his name is designed for Hispanic students.
The other Team Valor-endowed scholarship is named for the late jockey Isaac Murphy and is awarded to African-American students.
The Race for Education provides educational programs and college scholarships to young people in the equine and agriculture industries with significant financial need. The majority of their students come from high need, low income backgrounds. The Race for Education not only offers financial support for these students, but also mentoring, tutoring, and partnership support to ensure students are receiving the support and educational skills they need to be successful. The Starting Gate, an after school college readiness and literacy program was also established by The Race for Education in 2009 in New York and has expanded to locations in Kentucky.
Hernandez participated in The Starting Gate after school program at Belmont Park’s Anna House for two years.