Paulick: Luis Saez Has Put Reputation For Careless Riding In His Past - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Paulick: Luis Saez Has Put Reputation For Careless Riding In His Past

Luis Saez aboard 2022 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath

Kiaran McLaughlin doesn't believe Luis Saez deserved to be tagged with the reputation of a reckless rider, but he admits it was there. When McLaughlin shocked the racing world in March 2020 with an announcement that he was disbanding his successful stable to become agent for Saez, he sat down with the Panamanian rider and said he wanted him to forget about the past and focus on the future.

The previous year, Saez rode Maximum Security to an apparent victory in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, only to be disqualified for interfering with several rivals at the top of the stretch when he drifted out several paths while racing on the lead. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Saez, who became the first jockey in history to have his mount disqualified from a Derby win for fouling his rivals.

Saez was suspended 15 days for his actions, one of six suspensions he received for careless riding in 2019 in Florida, Kentucky, and New York. Saez appealed the Derby suspension and was still fighting it in 2020 when McLaughlin became his agent.

“Let's put that behind us,” McLaughlin told Saez.

Without hesitation, the rider told his new agent, “I agree.”

The appeal was dropped and Saez served his days.

“He had hired a lawyer and it was getting very expensive to fight it,” McLaughlin said.

This was McLaughlin's second go-round as an agent, having handled the book of the late Chris Antley in 1992-'93 after working as an assistant trainer for nearly a decade. The Lexington, Ky., native opened a public stable in 1995 and over the next 25 years won 1,577 races in North America, 41 of them Grade 1, including the 2006 Belmont Stakes with Jazil and the 2006 Breeders' Cup Classic with Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Invasor.

In 2019, McLaughlin was one of several trainers in New York sanctioned for violating labor laws.

That same year, Richard DePass, who had been agent for Saez, told McLaughlin he was retiring.

“He asked me if I would be interested in taking over,” McLaughlin remembered. “I had a stable full of nice horses, but with all the issues with the state, the fines, the workers' compensation costs, I told him, 'Yes, I would be interested.' We talked back and forth for a while. He didn't believe me and I didn't believe him, but we got together with Luis and his wife (Andrea) in January 2020 and started a few months later.”

“Luis is very humble and very appreciative,” McLaughlin said. “He's got a great wife and three daughters. He stays home, doesn't go out and about. He's a very good person and it's a real pleasure to work with him. And he's a hard worker.”

McLaughlin keeps his rider busy. While his productivity was down slightly in 2020 after missing some time due to previous suspensions, Saez bounced back in 2021 to ride 1,635 races, winning 293 and compiling a career best $26,194,654 in mount earnings. No jockey rode more races that year.

He also officially won his first Triple Crown race in 2021 when Essential Quality took the Belmont Stakes. That same horse gave Saez his initial Breeders' Cup winner the previous year by winning the Grade 1 Juvenile. In 2022, Saez rode Secret Oath to victory in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks for McLaughlin's old boss, trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

“The one thing that has helped us a lot is the support of so many top trainers with top horses,” McLaughlin said. “Brad Cox letting us ride Essential Quality was just fabulous.”

Saez has ridden other Grade 1 winners in recent years for Hall of Famers Lukas, Bill Mott, Roger Attfield, and Todd Pletcher, among others.

Saez, who turned 30 years old on May 19, has won riding titles at prestigious meets in Florida, Kentucky and New York. This year, he and McLaughlin opted to stay in Kentucky after the Keeneland fall meet, ride the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland and the Churchill Downs meet that ended last Sunday, Nov. 27.

Saez finished the Churchill meet with a flourish, winning six races on Saturday and building up a big enough lead to hold off Tyler Gaffalione by two wins, 23-21, to secure the title. Gaffalione bagged four wins on closing day, with Saez finishing second four times.

Normally, after the Keeneland meet, he would have returned to New York, where three-time Eclipse Award winner Irad Ortiz Jr. rules the roost.

“The decision to go to Kentucky wasn't easy,” McLaughlin said. “He's got a house in New York, but in Kentucky we are first or second choice by just about everybody, so it makes it a little easier. In New York, Irad has so much business, it's tough.”

Looking ahead, after Saez rides Cigar Mile day at Aqueduct on Saturday, he'll head down to Florida and Gulfstream Park for the winter. Saez will go to Keeneland in the spring, then he and McLaughlin will have a decision to make about summer. McLaughlin is leaning toward Churchill Downs and Saratoga though the Belmont Park spring-summer meet remains a possibility. “We've had a lot of success in Kentucky,” McLaughlin said, “and the turf course being back at Churchill Downs would help.”

With the Maximum Security disqualification and other careless riding suspensions now years in his past, conversations about Saez center on how good he is riding, not how recklessly.

“It's a shame he had that reputation, even though I don't think he deserved it,” McLaughlin said. “Maybe I've helped him some with certain things. I've told him to please be careful out there, that suspensions really hurt our momentum.

“Luis has always been a really good person and is a very talented rider who rides correctly,” McLaughlin said. “He is always looking forward, focusing on the future instead of the past. I'm very proud of him.“


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