Jockey Luis Saez dedicates Belmont Stakes win to brother

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK – Luis Saez looked up to the sky after winning the Belmont Stakes aboard Essential Quality. It was not hard to think the words going through his mind were: “This one is for you, Juan.”

The win was Saez’s first official one in a Triple Crown race, but it it meant so much more thinking of his brother Juan.

The 17-year-old apprentice rider was killed in a racing accident in 2014 in Indiana when his mount clipped heels with the horse in front of them. They went down and he sustained fatal head trauma.

“I was giving thanks to the Lord and my brother, Juan, he’s always watching me,” the 29-year-old Saez said of the biggest victory of what has been a great career.

Essential Quality covered the 1 1/2 mile race in 2:27.11 in winning for the sixth time in seven career starts. The favorite in the field of eight paid $4.60, $3 and $2.60 in winning for the Godolphin Stable.

Hot Rod Charlie returned $4.10 and $2.90, while Preakness winner Rombauer was $3.50 to show.

Saez and trainer Brad Cox had expected to get to the winner’s circle in the Kentucky Derby on May 1 with Essential Quality, but the then-undefeated 3-year-old son of Tapit had a bad start and eventually finished fourth.

“In the Kentucky Derby we were so confident that we’re gonna win that race,” Saez said. “He was ready for the race. But we have a little unlucky start … Today the main thing was try to break clean and the rest I know he’s gonna do it.”

Medina Spirit won the Run for the Roses with Mandaloun second and Hot Rod Charlie third.

There is a chance the Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit will be disqualified in the Dery after two post-race drug tests had positive results.

Saez knows about disqualifications. Two years ago, he guided Maximum Security to victory in the Kentucky Derby only to wait 22 minutes while the stewards conducted an inquiry for interference against War of Will.

Maximum Security was DQd and placed 17th. Long-shot Country House was elevated to first, giving jockey Flavien Prat his first Triple Crown win.

In winning Saturday, Saez and Essential Quality wore down pacesetter Hot Rod Charlie, ridden by Prat, to get to the winner’s circle.

“This was the race I wanted to win and I got this,” Saez said. “We make history.”

The other thing that put a smile on Saez’s face was knowing he also won for his wife and daughter.

“They are out there waiting for me,” he said. “I’m so grateful to be here.”

It turned out to be a perfect day for Saez, and all his family as well as the 11,238 mostly maskless fans who were allowed to attend the race.

There were no fans allowed last year because of the pandemic. Tiz the Law won the Belmont, with the race kicking off the Triple Crown races and being run at 1 1/8 miles.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert
Sam Upshaw Jr./USA TODAY NETWORK
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”