03/31/2017 1:56PM

Saez hits century mark in bid for riding title

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Coglianese Photos
Luis Saez wins the final race of the Thursday card aboard Sistine Sista, giving him 100 wins for the season.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – When Luis Saez guided Sistine Sista to victory in Thursday’s final race here, it was his 100th win of the Gulfstream Park winter season, making him just the third rider in track history to reach that plateau for a meet.

Saez took a 12-win lead over Paco Lopez into the final three days of the meet – which ends Sunday – making it likely that he will win his first Gulfstream riding title. Javier Castellano has won the last five Gulfstream winter titles, winning at least 100 races in each of those years. Lopez won 103 races in 2013-14, when Castellano won a meet-record 132.

“We came here to do good, but we didn’t know that we’d do that good,” Saez said. “We keep trying, work very hard. Thank God we’re here. I appreciate every trainer and owner who gave me the opportunity.”

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Saez, who finished second at Gulfstream to Castellano the last two years, said he gained confidence throughout the meet.

“Every year we learn something different, something new,” he said. “Everything keeps getting better, and we keep riding better.”

Saez will move his tack to Keeneland starting next week, with trips to New York as needed. Eventually, he will return to New York for the summer meets at Belmont and Saratoga.

Lopez likely will finish second in the standings, followed by Tyler Gaffalione (61), Nik Juarez (58), and Castellano (54).

While the leading jockey changed, the leading trainer stayed the same as Todd Pletcher will win the Gulfstream meet for the 14th consecutive year. He entered the final three days of the meet with 54 wins from 199 starters. He was followed by Jorge Navarro (40), Mike Maker (27), Dale Romans (23), Antonio Sano (23), and Chad Brown (22).

Pletcher said he moved horses to his Palm Beach Downs base early, “which has proven beneficial.”

“This meet fits our stable well, with the 2-year-old and 3-year-old opportunities,” he said. “When you have a streak going like that, you can’t help but be aware of it and hope to continue it. We’re fortunate to have quality horses year after year to be able to do it.”