Luis Saez Taking Aim at Fourth Championship Meet Title
Defending Champion Rider Dethroned Irad Ortiz Jr. Last Winter
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Having regained his top spot at one of the most prestigious and competitive racing meets in the country, jockey Luis Saez is back in South Florida with sights set on a fourth Championship Meet title at Gulfstream Park.
The 71-day Championship Meet kicks off Monday, Dec. 26 and runs through Sunday, April 2, 2023. Two $100,000 turf stakes highlight the opening day program – the Tropical Park Derby for 3-year-olds and Tropical Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.
“It feels really good to be here. Wonderful weather, wonderful track,” Saez said. “The people are great. I’m blessed to be back.”
Saez, 30, captured the 2021-2022 Championship Meet title with 122 winners, banking nearly $5 million in purse earnings from 537 mounts. He also led the standings in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, the latter with 137 wins that stood as a track record until Irad Ortiz Jr. won 140 in 2020-2021.
Among Saez’s victories in ending Ortiz’s three-year reign last winter were 14 stakes winners including Fearless in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) and Ghostzapper (G3), Abaan in the W.L. McKnight (G3) and H. Allen Jerkens, and Girl With a Dream in the Forward Gal (G3).
A native of Panama, Saez went on to finish third in defense of his 2021 Saratoga riding title this summer before winning the fall meets at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, dethroning Davie, Fla. native and Championship Meet colleague Tyler Gaffalione each time. He also rode his 3,000th career winner June 5 at Belmont Park aboard Funny Joke.
Saez is one of four jockeys to win seven races on a single card at Gulfstream and the only one to do it twice, achieving the milestone two months apart Jan. 14 and March 29, 2018. Paco Lopez (2020), Gaffalione (2017) and retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey (1996) are the others.
“I’m blessed to be able to do well at every track we go to,” Saez said, “but Gulfstream is a special place. Every time we ride a horse we try to win, no matter what. We’re always trying.”
Saez began riding professionally in his native country after graduating from the Laffit Pincay Jr. jockey school and enjoyed immediate success after coming to the U.S., landing in South Florida and winding up an Eclipse Award finalist for champion apprentice of 2009.
Represented by Kiaran McLaughlin, who won 1,577 races as a trainer before retiring in 2020 to become his agent, Saez reached career highs in mounts (1,635), wins (293) and purse earnings ($26.19 million) in 2021. He ranks among the national leaders in all three categories again this year.
Among this year’s wins are more than 20 graded-stakes including Secret Oath in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Casa Creed in the Fourstardave (G1) and Jaipur (G1) and Shirl’s Speight in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1).
“Thank God, we’ve been doing pretty great this year. The horses have been running great and the owners and trainers have been giving us the opportunity to ride them,” Saez said. “My agent works pretty hard trying to get the best horses we can, and it’s working out great.”
Saez returned to Gulfstream Dec. 4 in the final month of the Sunshine Meet and picked up where he left off last winter, registering four consecutive multi-win days capped by a five-win afternoon Dec. 11. He added another two-win day Dec. 16.
“I feel grateful to be riding. If I can be riding a lot of horses, that’s great,” Saez said. “That’s why we’re here. Every day we come here we just try to win every race we can.”