Thursday’s 3RD race at Churchill Downs marked the U.S. debut for
17-year-old Juan Saez aboard Malibu Springs, who finished second a
half-length behind Danzig Gold for trainer Ian Wilkes in a 1 1/8-mile maiden
claiming race on the turf. Saez is the younger brother of Luis Saez, who
captured his first Grade 1 wins in 2013 on champion three-year-old Will Take
Charge in the Travers at Saratoga and the
Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
“I wanted to become a jockey because of my brother; that’s why I went to jockey
school,” Saez said. “But I also want to be better than my brother.”
Juan Saez recently graduated at the top of his class from the Laffit Pincay Jr.
Jockey Training Academy near his native Panama City, Panama, and has jockey
agent Julio Espinoza keeping his book.
Espinoza, who as a jockey himself captured 642 wins (ninth all-time) riding at
Churchill Downs from 1973-1998, took some questions and helped translate for
Saez, who is still brushing up on his English.
“It was the first race he’s rode in four months and his first time on the grass,
he’s going to be fine,” Espinoza said of Saez after his runner-up effort
“It’s totally different from the dirt,” Saez said. “It feels like you’re flying
in the air; I’ve never even worked a horse on grass before.”
“He’s fit; he’s been running, jogging and training,” Espinoza said. “There’s
nothing quite like riding in the actual race, but he was ready for it.”
It didn’t take long for Saez to catch the eye of some of the top trainers at
Churchill Downs. He is scheduled to ride three mounts on Friday, one on Saturday
and two on Sunday.
“We’re just thankful to Ian for giving us an opportunity to ride for him,”
Espinoza said. “When he watched Juan work one horse, that’s all it took. He gave
us an opportunity right away. He rides for D. Wayne Lukas on Friday. He worked
one for Wayne and Wayne put him up right away too. He obviously looked pretty
good on the horses in the morning.”
“I really like to ride and want to ride every race,” Saez added.
“When you’re that young, I remember when I used to want to ride every race,”
Espinoza said. “I told my agent, ‘I don’t care if he’s 100-1, let me ride him.’
When you’re that young you just want to ride.”
Saez will continue riding mounts at Churchill for the remainder of the meet and
then move to Ellis Park for the summer meeting in Henderson, Kentucky.
“He’ll go to Ellis Park for the summer,” Espinoza said. “We’ll try to ride some
at Indiana Grand but mainly focus on Ellis Park and then go on to New York in