Apprentice jockey Juan Saez, the talented 17-year-old younger brother of journeyman rider Luis Saez, died late Tuesday night from injuries sustained in an an accident during the eighth race earlier in the day at Indiana Grand in Shelbyville, Ind., according to a statement from track announcer Bill Downes.
Saez was airlifted by Life Flight Networks to Methodist Hospital in nearby Indianapolis suffering from what Daily Racing Form reporter Marty McGee said was “severe head trauma.” McGee quoted Julio Espinoza, agent for the young Panamanian, saying chances of survival were bleak and that doctors revived Saez “three or four times.” He was reported to be in critical condition and on life support throughout the evening.
Shortly after midnight, Downes posted the following message on Twitter: “I've been informed Indiana Grand has cancelled the races for Wednesday due to the passing of jockey Juan Saez.”
The fatal accident occurred on the turn of a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming race when Montezuma Express, with Saez aboard, appeared to run up on a tiring horse and clipped heels. Both horse and rider fell to the ground and a trailing horse, Masaru, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., collided with Montezuma Express and also fell. Video of the race was unclear how Saez was struck. Santana did not require medical attention, according to an Indiana Grand spokesperson. Indiana Grand officials originally stated that Montezuma Express was euthanized, but subsequent reporting by Jennie Rees in the Courier-Journal indicated the horse suffered superficial injuries only. On Wednesday, track spokesman Tammy Knox said that Masaru was euthanized as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.
“There are no words to describe the devastation that we are all feeling,” said Terry Meyocks, national manager of the Jockeys' Guild. “Our thought and prayers are with Juan's family during this tragic time.”
“Juan was such a talented and sweet kid, with a promising future,” said John Velazquez, chairman of the Guild. “It is like losing a member of the family. We are competing against one another on the track, but off of the track, we are all very close. Since his family was in transit, it gives some comfort knowing that he was surrounded by his fellow riders, his agent, Julio Espinoza, and close friends, when he passed.”
Saez, a graduate of the Laffit Pincay riding school in Panama City, began his U.S. career in June and was runaway leading rider at Ellis Park this summer, winning with 51 of 194 mounts. His closest competitor had 27 wins. At Indiana Grand, Saez won with 21 of 95 starts. The totals from his brief career in the U.S. are 89 victories from 440 mounts.
Saez becomes the first jockey to die in a race since Jorge Harrera was killed in a July 2012 accident at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, Calif. The teen is believed to be the 153rd jockey since 1940 to lose his life in a North American horse race, according to figures compiled by the Jockeys' Guild and published in the Louisville Courier-Journal. That list (which may include some training fatalities) was published prior to Harrera's 2012 death or the 2010 Zia Park accident that claimed the life of jockey Mark Villa.
In a separate, unrelated incident at the top of the stretch of the race in which Saez was injured, Platitude suffered a catastrophic injury and fell, unseating jockey Marcelino Pedroza. Platitude was euthanized but Pedroza escaped injury.
Due to two incidents on the track in different locations, the decision was made to cancel the ninth and final race on Tuesday's program at Indiana Grand.
For more about the life and brief riding career of Juan Saez, read Jennie Rees' July 7 profile in the Courier-Journal.
The NTRA issued the following statement Wednesday morning:
“Juan Saez possessed an immense gift for riding horses and there is no telling how bright his future as a jockey would have been. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, as well as the entire tight-knit racing community that supports Indiana Grand.”
— Alex Waldrop, President & CEO, National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA)
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