Luis Saez has suffered through big disappointment and tragedy in the horse-riding world.
The big disappointment came in 2019 when Saez was aboard Maximum Security, who was disqualified for interference after a Kentucky Derby victory. The jockey had to serve a 15-day suspension. Saez also rode the favorite, Essential Quality, in this year’s Kentucky Derby and finished fourth.
The tragedy came in 2014. His younger brother died in a riding mishap at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino.
But Saturday was all about happiness for the 29-year-old native of Panama, and maybe about some redemption for Triple Crown races past. Essential Quality was the favorite again, this time at the Belmont Stakes, and this time the favorite won.
Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie were dueling down the stretch, but Saez managed to guide his horse across the finish line ahead by 1 1/4 lengths to win the 1 1/2-mile Test of the Champion in front of 11,238 fans.
It was Saez’s first Triple Crown victory (that counted), and it gave trainer Brad Cox his first one, too.
"This is the race I wanted to win," Saez said, still on his horse’s back while doing an interview with NBC. "We made the history."
After the race, he was seen looking skyward.
"I was giving thanks to the Lord and my [late] brother, Juan," Saez said. "He was watching me. So I was dedicating this race to him."
Saez had finished second on Bravazo in the 2018 Preakness, (the year Justify won the Triple Crown) but then Bravazo finished sixth in the Belmont. In 2016, he also rode Brody’s Cause to a sixth-place showing at Belmont. That was the best he had done in this Triple Crown races until Saturday.
Saturday, Hot Rod Charlie and jockey Flavien Prat set a hot early pace of 22.78 seconds for the first quarter mile and 46.49 for the half.
"I thought it benefited our horse," Cox said. "Hot Rod Charlie ran a tremendous race, and I thought with the hot pace, we were in a good spot where they’d come back. [Saez] did a fantastic job putting him in position turning for home, and he really showed his stamina late."
The latest Kentucky Derby was won by Medina Spirit, who later failed a drug test. Essential Quality finished fourth, about a length back. The horse had won all five of his starts prior to that, including four with Saez aboard.
"In the Kentucky Derby, we were confident and thought he was going to win," Saez said. "He was ready for that day. But we had a little unlucky start, breaking from there. So today the main thing was to try to break clean. For the rest, I knew he was going to do it."