October 15, 2014

A 17-year-old apprentice jockey considered to be a rising star in horse racing died from head injuries sustained in a riding accident at an Indiana track.

The Jockeys' Guild said Wednesday that Juan Saez died Tuesday night at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where he was airlifted after the accident in the eighth race at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino in suburban Shelbyville.

The track's jockeys agreed to cancel Wednesday's races in remembrance of Saez. The track planned a public memorial for him Thursday.

Guild chairman and fellow rider John Velazquez said Saez was surrounded by other riders, his agent and close friends when he died. Saez, who was from Panama, is the younger brother of nationally known rider Luis Saez, who is based in New York.

Juan Saez was aboard Montezuma Express when his mount clipped heels with the horse in front of him, Paddy's Note. Saez's mount fell, causing him to be unseated. A trailing horse, Masaru ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., was unable to avoid Saez's horse and also fell, unseating Santana Jr., who wasn't seriously injured.

''Juan was such a talented and sweet kid, with a promising future,'' Velazquez said. ''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.''

Saez began his U.S. career in June at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. He won the riding title at Ellis Park in Kentucky during the summer, with 51 wins from 194 starts. He had ridden 89 winners and his purse earnings totaled $2.05 million in his young career.

Saez split his time between riding at the Kentucky racetracks and Indiana Grand, where he was the leading apprentice with 21 wins.

As an apprentice, Saez was allowed to ride at 10 pounds less than established jockeys. He had won enough races that his weight allowance was cut to seven pounds, and he would have lost it altogether one year after his fifth victory.

''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.''

Julio Espinoza, his agent and a former rider himself, had closely supervised the young Saez. The teenager was working to learn English so he could better communicate at the racetrack. Saez was known for his engaging smile.

Actress Bo Derek, a member of the California Horse Racing Board, tweeted, ''Condolences to the family of brave jockey Juan Saez. R.I.P. beautiful young man.''

There was a moment of silence for Saez between races at Keeneland Race Course in Kentucky on Wednesday.

Saez graduated from the Laffit Pincay Jr. Jockey School in Panama before moving to the U.S. His cousins, Gabriel Saez and Angel S. Arroyo, also are jockeys.

In a separate accident at the top of the stretch in the same race, jockey Marcelino Pedroza was unseated when his mount Platitude fell and was later euthanized. Pedroza wasn't hospitalized.

The ninth and final race on the program was canceled after the two accidents, which are under review by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission's board of stewards.

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