When you think of the best jockeys in the country, who comes to mind first? Stevens, Smith, maybe Castellano, Rosario or Bejarano? The media coverage of the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup helped elevate Smith, Rosario and Stevens to be recognized by even fair-weather race fans. Stevens’ epic wins on Oxbow and Mucho Macho Man; Rosario’s Kentucky Derby win on Orb; and Smith’s amazing Breeders’ Cup success and, of course, on Palace Malice. It might take the average fan a while to recognize Eclipse-winning jockey Castellano’s name, but only needs to be reminded of the infamous nudge in the Breeders’ Cup and his win by DQ on Ria Antonia before you get see the recollection set in. Bejarano has been dominating the southern California racing circuit for years, winning riding titles like they were gifts, and of course riding Goldenscents to victory in the Breeders’ Cup.
For many race fans, it’s the name of the horse that sticks with them, not necessarily its equine pilot. You remember Will Take Charge. The power horse, trained by the incomparable D. Wayne Lukas. Will Take Charge was freakishly good in 2013 winning the Travers, the Clark, the Pennsylvania Derby and missed winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic by literally the hair on his chin to Mucho Macho Man in one of the most thrilling Classics yet.
A young jockey by the name of Luis Saez has rode Will Take Charge in every victory, and will guide him again in Saturday’s Donn (Gr. 1) at Gulfstream Park, his home track. Saez is an accomplished rider in his own right. At 21-years of age, he has won 25 graded stakes races. Most recently, he won the Awesome Feather aboard Munnings Sister at Gulfstream on Feb. 6. He finished 9th in the earnings standings and 36th for wins in 2013. Saez, ironically, has also accumulated quite a list of second place finishes, but people barely remember the place finishers let alone the jockeys. Saez not only finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he also finished second in the Filly and Mare Sprint aboard Judy the Beauty.
If you only remember the name Luis Saez from piloting Will Take Charge, you’re about to hear his name a lot more in the months leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Saez will take get the mount on not only a Derby contender, but the possible Derby winner, Cairo Prince. Saez has been blessed to have ridden Cairo Prince to victories in the Nashua Stakes and the Holy Bull. Cairo Prince has only one second place finish of his career and that was to Honor Code in the 2013 Remsens Stakes at Aqueduct. The jockey? Luis Saez.
The Panamanian jockey honed his skills at the Pincay School in Panama City. He arrived in the United States in 2009 at the age of 17 and quickly set up shop in Florida, winning the riding title at Calder in 2011 and 2012 and received an Eclipse apprentice nomination in 2009. Saez’s graduating class contains an impressive list of riders such as Abel Lezcano and Ricardo Santana, Jr. Santana (no surprise) was the leading apprentice jockey at the school. He is currently riding at Oaklawn. Abel Lezcano is riding at Aqueduct. The Pincay School has produced successful riders like Eddie Castro, Jose Lezcano, Gabriel Saez (a cousin to Luis) and Elvis Trujillo. Veteran riders such as Alex Solis, Martin Pedroza and Cornelio Velasquez (all of whom are still riding) are graduates of the school.
If you do an internet search for Luis Saez you will need to scroll down a few pages to get past the media overload regarding an alleged incident involving Will Take Charge and Moreno in the Travers. The trainer of Moreno accused Saez of using a shocking device on Will Take Charge, advancing the horse rapidly to the lead and defeating Moreno. The New York Gaming Commission reviewed the incident and cleared Saez of any violations and called the allegation “unsubstantiated.” The young jockey was shaken by the accusations and emphatically denied that he had done nothing wrong. D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame Trainer of Will Take Charge, stood by Saez’s side during the investigation. Lukas never gave up on Saez and continues to give him the Will Take Charge mounts.
Saez is quickly moving up the jockey standings at Gulfstream, currently in third behind Castellano and Paco Lopez. He has 10 mounts in Saturday’s 12 race card at Gulfstream and 8 mounts on Sunday including Will Take Charge in the Donn. Joel Rosario is riding Lea in the Donn, a horse that Saez rode and won with in the Hal’s Hope Stakes in January 2014. The victory gave Saez his 1,000th win of what looks to be a very promising career.