The Ride of His Life

A young entrepreneur buys the troubled Jockey Club and swears he's not beating a dead horse

Hernandez graduated from Florida International University and then Nova University's law school. When he was twenty, his stepfather had had enough of the plumbing business and bought a small diner, El Coral, on NW 73rd Avenue and 35th Street. But after seven months, during which Hernandez managed the eatery, his stepfather realized that running a restaurant was no vacation from plumbing. "It was harder," concedes Hernandez, who is married and has a 22-month-old son. The diner was sold.

Despite his lack of experience, the club's recent jinx, and the considerable amount of money he's already sunk into the venture, Hernandez is undaunted. "I'm not a chef, I'm not a good cook, but I know how I would want a good steak," he says confidently. "My job is to find the right people to do it the right way. I know what I'm looking for."

And owning the Jockey Club, he believes, will have its perks. He sees the relaxed social environment of the club as an inroad to expanding his real estate business by developing contacts normally outside his realm in the Cuban community. "Networking," he imparts. "This club is like the melting pot of Miami, where the old and the young can, in a sense, put their guards down. Business is done with the people you know."

Not that he doesn't realize it's a gamble. "I'll either be called a genius or a fool," he says.

Beamon, a Miamian who long-jumped to Olympic renown in Mexico City in 1968 and now does corporate public relations work, has been a Jockey Club member since the Seventies. He says if he were a a betting man, he'd back Hernandez to reclaim the golden age of the Jockey Club.

"George is a very young, energetic man with new ideas but with an appreciation for the old ideas," he attests. "And he's strong enough to want to take a chance. That's what business is all about, anyway -- there's no guarantee.

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