10/15/2014 9:27AM

Apprentice Saez, 17, dies of head trauma

Coady Photography
Apprentice jockey Juan Saez, 17, died Tuesday night after a spill at Indiana Grand.

Seventeen-year-old apprentice rider Juan Saez died Tuesday night from severe head trauma following a spill at Indiana Grand in suburban Indianapolis, stunning those who had known him as a rising star since he began his career in June.

Saez lingered on life support for several hours at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis after being airlifted there from Indiana Grand, according to information supplied Wednesday morning by his agent, Julio Espinoza. The time of death was 10:52 p.m. Eastern.

Espinoza initially said Saez’s mother, father, and two brothers were en route to the United States from Panama to make funeral arrangements, but Terry Meyocks, national manager of the Jockeys’ Guild, said Wednesday the family was staying home and the body will be shipped to them.

Espinoza said Luis Saez, the standout jockey based in New York, had flown Monday to the family home in Panama to surprise their father for his birthday Tuesday.

“It’s all very, very sad,” said Espinoza.

The spill occurred in the eighth race when Saez fell on the far turn after his mount, Montezuma Express, appeared to clip the heels of a tiring horse in front of him, Paddy’s Note. Saez crashed to the ground, as did his mount, and the jockey may have been struck by trailing horses.

Ricardo Santana Jr., aboard Masaru, fell from his mount in a chain reaction when trying to avoid the fallen horse and rider. Masaru had to be euthanized, but Montezuma Express returned to his stable.

Saez, a native of Panama and a graduate of the famed Laffit Pincay Jr. jockey training academy, had known little but success since starting his American riding career in June at Churchill Downs. He was easily the leading jockey at the 29-day summer meet at Ellis Park and had ridden 89 winners for mount earnings of more than $2 million in his nascent career.

"Juan Saez possessed an immense gift for riding horses, and there is no telling how bright his future as a jockey would have been," Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said in a statement.

“Juan was such a talented and sweet kid, with a promising future,” said jockey John Velazquez, chairman of the Jockeys' Guild. “It is like losing a member of the family."

Since coming to the United States, Saez had lived in the Louisville, Ky., home owned by Espinoza and his wife.

“We did everything together – work, eat, run, everything,” said Espinoza. “He was just a great, great kid, aside from being the best young rider around.”

In a separate and seemingly unrelated incident in the same race Tuesday night, one of the leaders, Platitude, broke down, unseating Marcelino Pedroza Jr., less than 10 seconds after the Saez incident. That horse also was euthanized.

According to a press release issued by Indiana Grand, Santana and Pedroza escaped serious injury.

Track officials decided to cancel what would have been the ninth and final race Tuesday in the aftermath of the spills. The full card Wednesday also was canceled.

According to the Jockeys’ Guild, Saez is the 153rd jockey since 1940 to be killed in a race in North America. He is the first to lose his life since Jorge Herrera died in July 2012 at Pleasanton in Northern California.

– additional reporting by Byron King

john More than 1 year ago
Goodnight my sweet prince, and may flights of angels speed you to your rest.
Opinion More than 1 year ago
Wow,very sad. RIP Luis. Condolences to his family.
Marialice More than 1 year ago
How Sad. Just shows ho dangerous the sport we all enjoy can be.
Donald More than 1 year ago
Tremendous pressure to win and jocks take more chances than they should,accidents like this are inches away from happening each day,also a lot of herding going on at some tracks ,not good.RIP young man,prayers for all the family.
C.Richard Waller More than 1 year ago
My heart goes out to Luis and the Saez family. You knew him as a sweet and lovable kid in this life. You will know him in the next life as well.
cappelletti63 More than 1 year ago
So sad for so many.
M More than 1 year ago
too young to die....
Amy Hurley More than 1 year ago
This is so sad. It really hits hard, especially since he was only 17 and had such outstanding talent and promise. Of course it is always a tragedy whenever a jockey is seriously injured or dies, but this really seems especially tragic. My thoughts are with Juan's family and friends.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
until rough riding and placing lame doped up horses on the track is combated seriously this will keep happening. its sad that a young kid died.but now an investigation needs to be conducted to see how and if this could be avoided.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Ray, (I'm pretty sure you're the same "Ray" I've been reading and at times posting to for at least 16 years or more on aohell and altsports.horseracing and others) Do you remember the incident at Fairplex, mid-late 1990's? I think the horse's name was Wolfpack, I can't do a search cause I'm on dialup connection, but that was a terrible tragedy and man was that ever hush-hush, results of investigation probably sealed, too..
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
Wasnt hush hush and wasnt sealed
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
Investigate how a horse clipped heels...and riding today is far far far from roughriding......
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
that depends on whether or not the horse in front cut him off or not...an example would be the WICKED STRONG/ MORENO incident where MORENOS jockey clearly decided to cut of WICKED STRONG causing him to clip heels and fall...jockey MARAGH ended up with a broken arm. also MARAGH had been rough riding all week including the race before which might have caused retaliation or maybe copying..so there is always a reaction to every action.stop the practice of rough riding and you eliminate a lot of problems..as for the doped up horse it goes without saying that they pose a hazard for all involved.
FESTUS ELROY More than 1 year ago
This is the sad and dark reality of the sport we on this site are apart of.It is the most dangerous sport there is.For human and equine.(Auto racing a distant 2nd)In my opinion these jockeys are some of the most couragious athletes on earth.I have known of many jockeys who are brain damaged or paralyzed partially or fully over the 35 years ive been involved in this sport as an owner/breeder,fan,gambler.Bank accounts are set up to help the family (many are very low level or beginners like Juan)We stop,reflect,mourn,then move on.No parent should have to bury thier child.I watched my parents bury my brother.I think i hurt more for my parents than myself at the time.Like everybody on this site prayers and condolences for all that knew Juan RIP