(Jockey Luis Saez / Photos by Holly M. Smith)
Luis Saez May Be the Best Rider in the World, Right Now:
Just a few years ago — when he was riding the likes of the mega-talented, if not rambunctious, Maximum Security and hanging out with the likes of sleazy trainer Jason Servis — jockey Luis Saez appeared to be a young man either on the brink of stardom or the cusp of disaster.
No doubt, the young rider from Panama was a talent worth taking a chance on and with, if not a risk. He could fit a saddle as well as any young talent in the game. He could fit nearly any kind and every kind of talented racehorse, whether speed-oriented or a deep-closer. He could fit easily and comfortably in the middle of any jockey’s room, and stand next to any of the best in the game.
He was gifted and good. And, he knew it.
At the same time, the young rider seemed anxious, impatient, and, at times, when on the racetrack, he could be downright dangerous. At times, he rode with those characteristics as if they were proud chips on his shoulders. When blocked by either horse or man, he seemed comfortable in making his own way and path – even if it included a not-so-subtle nudge or outright sideswipe. When leading and challenged, he seemed ready to weave either in or out to wage war on anyone and any horse willing to make a challenge.
When he should be riding only the best horses and for the best trainers, and winning riding championships at the best meets, he was stockpiling disqualifications, suspensions and visits to the Stewards’ offices.
He could bring out the best in a horse. But, at times, it brought out the worst in him. And, we all knew that, too.
On the first Saturday in May, of 2019, Saez put both his talent and temperament on full display in the Kentucky Derby and with Maximum Security. In a furious run into and out of the final turn, Saez and his horse seem to come out and bolt recklessly into several other horses gearing up to their immediate outside. They seemed to ram into War of Will and cause a chain-reaction that impacted the likes of would-be contenders Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress, too.
Maximum Security went on to cross the finish line first that day, but the roar of the crowd was quieted when several riders filed objections against both the winner and the horse’s rider for multiple forms of interference.
After a 22-minute delay, the Stewards issued a unanimous-vote disqualification. For the first time in the history of the Kentucky Derby, a winning horse and rider had been disqualified from the victory for infractions incurred during the running of the race.
Undoubtedly, the Stewards did the right thing, although the eventual winner probably was not compromised at all.
Undoubtedly, Saez and his horse both inhibited and endangered others and deserved to be disqualified.
Undoubtedly, it was a mess. And, Luis Saez was right in the middle of it. Again.
An examination of Saez’ list of infractions at the time revealed he had a list of riding penalties and suspensions longer than a saddle towel. The only thing that kept him in the saddle, at the time, was a stockpile of appeals on each Steward’s decision.
Undoubtedly, Saez was a man on the brink. But there were some doubts, to be sure.
Was Saez on the brink of glory?
Was Sez on the brink of disaster?
It remained that way, truthfully, for a couple of years until 2021. The talent was there. But so were the questions and the questionable riding tactics.
Until 2021. More specifically, it was mostly that way until April of 2021.
It was on April 1 – April’s Fool Day – that former trainer and former jockey’s agent Kiaran McLaughlin took over as the “manager” for Saez, replacing the retiring Richard DePass.
It was a day of reckoning.
Ever since that fateful day, McLaughlin – who formerly used his special touch and poultice on the physique and legs of talented horses – went to work on soothing his newest pupil and making the most out of his talented rider, Saez.
Ever since that day, McLaughlin has helped Saez become the exceptional rider he always had the ability to be.
Ever since that day, McLaughlin has helped Saez become one of the best – if not “The Best” — riders in the free world.
Don’t know what McLaughlin ever said or did to convert Saez from a rodeo cowboy to a Shoemaker-esque jockey. Don’t know what magic potion or cerebral hypnosis McLaughlin ever utilized to get Saez to forget the dangerous antics and concentrate on grasping the right horse and making the right moment, at hand, count the most.
Don’t know what Saez did to accept his new coach; amend his carnivorous habits; and make the most of his immense talent and opportunities, at hand. Don’t know what conversion or “Damascus Road” experience helped Saez concentrate on the “riding his horse to win” rather than “rough-housing your horse to keep from losing” mentality. Don’t know. Maybe, one day, I will get the chance to ask the each of them.
But whatever it was or is, the formula has worked. It has worked wonders. And, it is still working today.
On Saturday, Saez gave another prime-time example of what he can do on the back on a talented horse. On Saturday, Saez was riding the Pennsylvania-bred, 3YO colt Angel of Empire for the first time. On Saturday, Saez guided the colt – whose previous two wins were at Horeseshoe Indianapolis – to an upset victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
In short, Saez was masterful. He guided the colt through a myriad of different spots, holes, openings and gaps and then surged to the front in the deep stretch to win going away.
In essence, Saez was masterful.
Don’t know yet what horse Saez will finally chose to ride in this “Road to the Kentucky Derby” 2023 version. But, you can bet, he will have his pick of some top horses. After all, he’s the type of jockey who can beat you on his horse, or he can take your horse and beat his former mount. He’s that good.
And, if I was trainer Brad Cox?
I would do anything I could to keep him riding one of my horses towards the Kentucky Derby that Saez is sure to win one of these days. The Kentucky Derby that he will win fairly. The Kentucky Derby that he will win appropriately and honestly.
Albaugh Family Stables Back In “The Hunt” for Kentucky Derby:
It was just a couple of weeks ago that I had the opportunity to chat with the affable and personable Jason Loutsch, who serves as the racing manager for the Albaugh family stables and who owns the 3YO colt Angel of Empire. On Saturday, Angel of Empire jumped seriously into the hunt for and onto the road of the 149th Kentucky Derby with a win in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds.
In our conversation, I asked Loutsch how the Albaugh Family – who spends some of the big bucks and top dollars to purchase some of the best prospects every year at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale – came to spend a meager $70,000 to purchase a Pennsylvania-bred colt? And, what was their thinking at the time? Did they think this one would or could join the ranks of the high-priced yearlings as a major contender for the Triple Crown? Seriously?
I loved Jason Loutsch’s answer, per usual.
“We really don’t look at the state where the yearling is born or bred,” he said. “We just look at the horse to see if he or she meets our standards. We have a program and we are very careful to pick out those horses that fit into our program. Most of the time, those horses are bred in Kentucky. But that’s not the most important thing to us. The most important thing to us is that they look like a racehorse and act like a racehorse. If they do, they have a chance to make a racehorse. Sometimes, they have a chance to become a special racehorse.
“That is exactly what we thought when we went and took a look at Angel of Empire. We thought he fit. We thought he has a chance to be a real good one.”
He has that chance. And, he is making the most of it.
Amoss: Hoosier Philly & Curly Jack “OK” After Saturday’s Stakes:
About an hour or so after the final horses had made it through the “spit box,” and the lights to the Fair Grounds had dimmed and diminished compared to those connected to Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street festivities, I reached out to trainer Tom Amoss.
Wanted to check up on the status of both filly Hoosier Philly and colt Curly Jack, whom Amoss had saddled for the G2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes and the G2 Risen Star Stakes on Saturday.
Hoosier Philly stumbled and staggered out of the starting gate in the G2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes, and, truly, never was able to recover her strength and style enough to make up the lost-ground difference in a speed-dual race that resulted in an impressive win for Pretty Mischievous.
On guts and talent alone, Hoosier Philly did manage to run a non-threatening 3rd, and came home safe, sound and, probably, eager to return to the races after sustaining her first career loss in 4 tries.
Curly Jack, on the other hand, never managed to pose a threat in the G2 Risen Star Stakes, which concluded the massive 13-race card at the Fair Grounds on Saturday. The 3YO son of Good Magic – who had run such an impressive 2nd to Instant Coffee in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in his last race of the 2022 season – only got up to 6th place down the backside on Saturday, before fading and finishing 8th. He was beaten about 10 lengths by the eventual winner.
It was the 2023 debut for both of the talented horses and there can be both excuses and arguments for additional chances made for each.
The good news?
According to Amoss – one of the most gifted and talented people in the sport today – both of his horses are doing well following their respective races.
“Both good,” Amoss texted Saturday night.
Sights set on next race set.
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