2022 Kentucky Derby jockey profile: Luis Saez

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 1st, 2022

Who is Luis Saez?

The rise of jockey Luis Saez has been meteoric. There was no gradual ascent through the ranks; no slow but steady progress on the U.S. racing scene. Ever since Saez started riding, he’s been a force to reckon with.

Born in Panama, Saez won 37 races in his home country before bursting on to the Florida racing scene in the summer of 2009. Before long, he was winning races in bunches, tallying 105 victories by the end of the year to earn a nomination for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey at the Eclipse Awards.

Saez has kept up his extraordinary pace ever since, winning a minimum of 142 races every year between 2010 and 2021. He’s ranked among the nation’s top 10 jockeys by wins every year since 2017, accumulating over 150 graded stakes triumphs along the way. In 2020, Saez picked up his first Breeders’ Cup win by guiding Essential Quality to a stretch-running score in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). The following year, Essential Quality gave Saez his first classic victory when battling to first place in the Belmont S. (G1).

One major race missing from Saez’s resume is the Kentucky Derby (G1), though he’s already had an unofficial taste of success in the Run for the Roses, guiding Maximum Security first across the finish line in 2019. But Derby glory was short-lived; Maximum Security (through no fault of Saez) had the misfortune to drift out and cause interference on the far turn, prompting a disqualification to 17th place.

Maximum Security is one of eight horses Saez has ridden in the Kentucky Derby, with those eight mounts contributing a sizable portion of Saez’s 4-for-41 (10%) lifetime record in 1 1/4-mile dirt races. Considering how well Saez has been riding in recent years, he’ll possibly improve these stats as more opportunities arise to ride top-tier horses in major races. Anyone who witnessed Saez’s crafty front-running win aboard Global Campaign in the 2020 Woodward H. (G1) knows Saez can be a master tactician when riding 1 1/4 miles on dirt.

An important component of Saez’s success is his ability to ride well at a wide variety of racetracks. From coast to coast, he’s enjoyed success at practically every track of prominence. Saez is especially effective when riding over dirt and synthetic surfaces, winning at a 20% rate since his career began.

In the 2022 Kentucky Derby, Saez is slated to ride the up-and-coming Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Charge It. In advance of the great race, let’s examine Saez’s resume a bit closer, exploring his dirt stats from 2017 onward at tracks that host multiple Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races:

All stats from Jan. 1, 2017 through April 24, 2022. Generated by STATSMASTER, Powered by TrackMaster, an Equibase Company.

Lifetime record over 1 1/4 miles on dirt:
Starts Wins Win % ROI %
41 4 10% -54%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Nazrana Dixon.

Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:      
Starts Wins Places Shows Win % ITM % ROI %
8 0 0 1 0% 33% -100%

Saez at Aqueduct

Saez typically misses most of the winter racing action at Aqueduct, preferring instead to ride in Florida. But he’s nevertheless picked up some major autumn stakes wins at Aqueduct, with triumphs in the Cigar Mile H. (G1) aboard Maximum Security (2019) and Americanrevolution (2021) contributing a fair chunk of the $2,917,220 Saez’s dirt mounts have earned by winning 13% of the time over the last five years.

Saez at Churchill Downs

One dirt track where Saez has struggled to gain momentum is Churchill Downs, where he’s won at a 12% rate since 2017. But there have been a few highlights along the way. In addition to his brief reign as a Kentucky Derby-winning jockey, Luis Saez nabbed the 2013 Clark H. (G1) aboard champion Will Take Charge, who had previously given Saez a top-level win over 1 1/4 miles in the Travers (G1) at Saratoga. More recently, Saez won the Churchill Downs S. (G1) during the 2021 spring meet at Churchill.

Saez at Fair Grounds

Saez isn’t a frequent rider at Fair Grounds, going just 2-for-15 (13%) over the main track since 2017. But a day trip to the New Orleans oval in 2021 saw Saez guide Chess Chief to an upset victory in the New Orleans Classic S. (G2), a race in which Saez perfectly timed a late rally to win by a head.

Saez at Gulfstream Park

Gulfstream Park has traditionally been Saez’s winter base, and during the 2017-18 Championship Meet he won a record 132 races and enjoyed a pair of remarkable seven-win afternoons. Saez also led the jockey standings during the 2021-22 Championship Meet, ending the season with 122 wins.

All told, Saez’s record over the Gulfstream main track stands at a terrific 373-for-1,573 (24%) since 2017, including a win in the 2019 Florida Derby (G1) aboard Maximum Security plus a couple of triumphs in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).

Saez at Keeneland

Saez has been a regular presence in the Keeneland winner’s circle, winning with 23% of his dirt mounts since 2017. He led all jockeys during the 2021 spring meet at Keeneland (during which he went 22-for-61 on dirt), and his major Keeneland stakes wins over the past five years include the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, 2020 Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and 2021 Blue Grass S. (G2) aboard Essential Quality.

Saez at Oaklawn Park

A handful of forays to Oaklawn Park have been highly productive for Saez, who wins at a 21% rate over the Arkansas oval. Saez picked up more than a million dollars in purse money when guiding Magnum Moon to triumphs in the 2018 Arkansas Derby (G1) and Rebel S. (G2) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. But arguably the best horse Saez has ridden at Oaklawn is Essential Quality, who kicked off a championship season with a victory in the 2021 Southwest S. (G3).

Saez at Santa Anita

Over the last five years, Saez has gone 4-for-14 (29%) over the Santa Anita main track, most notably producing a perfectly timed charge from C Z Rocket to win the 2020 Santa Anita Sprint Championship S. (G2) by a head.

Saez at Tampa Bay Downs

Although Saez spends each winter at Gulfstream Park, he rarely travels across the state to Tampa Bay Downs. Nevertheless, he’s gone 3-for-12 (25%) over the Tampa main track since 2017, suggesting more frequent trips to Florida’s Gulf Coast could be lucrative.

Saez at Turfway Park

Turfway Park boasts a synthetic racing surface rather than a dirt track, and Saez doesn’t ride there often. From just six mounts over the last five years, Saez has picked up one win and a place.