Indiana Grand in mourning after death of 17-year-old jockey Juan Saez

Juan Saez, 17
Published:
Updated:

Authorities say a jockey was injured at a central Indiana horse racing track Tuesday evening and later died at the hospital.

Juan Saez, 17, died after being thrown off his horse during a race at Indiana Grand Racing and Casino.

Jeff Tennell with the Shelbyville Fire Department said the jockey was airlifted to IU Health Methodist Hospital from the race track, which is located about 20 miles southeast of Indianapolis. Saez later died of what the coroner ruled as blunt force trauma.

Saez - a 17-year-old apprentice rider from Panama - was thrown off his horse, Montezuma Express, after it collided with Paddy's Notes, ridden by Oriana Rossi, according to a statement on the Indiana Downs website. When Montezuma Express fell, a trailing horse - Masaru, ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr. - wasn't able to move around it quickly enough and also fell, unseating Santana.

"It was a very experience group of riders. It didn't look like anyone was doing anything reckless or careless," said Jeff Johnston of the Jockey's Guild.

Those who have watched him ride say Saez was a phenom, winning 20 percent of his races at Indiana Grand. His last win came October 4 aboard Mister Pollard.

Indiana Grand posted this message on a sign:

"In agreement with Indiana Grand's Jockey Colony, Indiana Grand Racing & Casino will cancel live racing for Wednesday, Oct. 15 in remembrance of jockey Juan Saez and out of respect for his family."

In a separate incident at the top of the stretch, Platitude fell, unseating jockey Marcelino Pedroza. Platitude was also euthanized as a result of the incident. Pedroza was not transported to the hospital. Officials believe the two incidents were not related.

"These folks are courageous, talented and intelligent. They know what they are doing. They know how to do it. It can all go wrong in an instant," said Indiana Grand Vice President Jon Schuster. "When you put a 115-pound rider on a thousand-pound horse, any of us who have been around know how that can go."

"Sometimes I don't think the jockeys realize how dangerous it is," said Johnston, who retired after 21 years as a jockey.

In a twist of fate, Saez was only scheduled to ride in the second, third, seventh and ninth races Tuesday night. But one rider was down for two mounts in the eighth race, so Saez saddled up Montezuma Express, as well.

Neither would survive the ride.

Due to two incidents on the track in different locations, the decision was made to cancel the ninth and final race on the program for the night at Indiana Grand.

The Board of Stewards is still investigating the incidents.

Full statement from Indiana Grand: 

"The entire Centaur Gaming team is deeply saddened by the loss of Jockey Juan Saez," said Rod Ratcliff Centaur Gaming's chairman and CEO. "In Juan, we lost a courageous athlete, dedicated friend, and a member of the racing community that will be missed for years to come."

Although Indiana Horse Racing Commission officials are still reviewing details of the incident, it is believed that Montezuma Express, ridden by Juan Saez, clipped heels with the horse in front of him, Paddy's Notes, ridden by Oriana Rossi. As a result of the contact in the turn of the six furlong race, Montezuma Express, a four-year-old son of Henny Hughes, fell, causing Saez to be unseated.

"A moment such as this gives us great pause, and reminds us all that our racing athletes bravely risk their lives each and every day," said Jim Brown, Centaur Gaming's president, COO and Indiana Grand general manger. "We ask that our local racing fans as well as those watching via simulcast join us on Thursday as we remember Juan and pay our respects to our fallen friend."

Saez is a graduate of the Presidente Remon Racetrack in his native Panama. He won his first race in Panama in December 2013 and followed in his brother's footsteps and arrived in the United States this past spring to ride in Kentucky and surrounding racetracks.

Saez split his time between riding at the Kentucky racetracks and Indiana Grand, earning the Leading Jockey and Leading Apprentice titles at Ellis Park in early September. He is positioned to be named the 2014 Leading Apprentice Jockey at Indiana Grand at the conclusion of the meet with 21 wins in 95 starts with purse earnings in excess of $558,000.

His brother, Luis, recently made his first trip to Indiana Grand for the $500,000-added Indiana Derby Oct. 4, 2014, winning that race aboard East Hall. The younger Saez also won a stakes race that night, earning the win aboard Mister Pollard in the $85,000 Hoosier Breeders Sophomore Stakes, which was his final win at Indiana Grand.

"Our hearts and prayers are with Juan's family and friends today," said Jon Schuster, Indiana Grand's vice president and general manager of racing. "To have an up-and-coming star in the sport of horse racing taken from us so young is a tragedy. His passion for horse racing was immense and only surpassed by his good-natured outlook on life."

In agreement with Indiana Grand's Jockey Colony, Indiana Grand Racing & Casino will cancel live racing for Wednesday, Oct. 15 in remembrance of Juan Saez and out of respect for his family. A public memorial honoring the life and career of Juan Saez will be held on Thursday, Oct. 16 at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino.