Jockey killed remembered as rising star

HELBYVILLE, Ind. (WISH) – The horse racing community is remembering the loss of a young life cut short.

17-year-old Juan Saez is being called a rising star.  Saez was the first jockey killed on an Indiana horse race track.  He had just come to the states this year from Panama.  He was a teenager just realizing his dream to be a jockey.

Video shows 17-year-old Juan Saez riding Mister Pollard to victory at Indiana Grand Racing earlier this month.

Moments of silence have been held at race tracks across the country and will continue through Thursday.  On Wednesday, Jon Schuster, Indiana Grand Racing General Manager and Vice President of Racing, told 24-Hour News 8 the impact of the loss is immeasurable.  Wednesday, the racing community mourns his death.

“Big time.  We’re quite a family in the racing industry and we’ve lost one of our family members,” said Schuster.

Saez was already riding for hall of fame trainers including Wayne Lukas. Tuesday he rode for Montezuma’s part owner and trainer, Rick Hiles.

“He was just energetic, he was young, he was vibrant, he loved what he was doing and he just, ya know, the horses ran good for him.  And it just looked like he was destined to be a great rider,” said Hiles.

Saez won the title of top jockey at Evansville’s Ellis Park this summer and had accumulated a $2.09 million purse since the start of his career at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY.  Racing reporters across the country were picking up on his success.  Ray Paulick has been covering the sport of racing for decades.

“He wanted to be a jockey.  Said he had ridden horses since he was two years old.  He came here this year and started riding in June and kind of set the world on fire,” said Paulick, Paulick Report Publisher.

Initial looks at the video by the Indiana Racing Commission show Montezuma Express clipped the heels of the horse in front of him causing a chain reaction.  Saez got caught under a hoof.

“This is just a terrible one.  I’ve seen a lot of dangers and a lot of injuries in my lifetime.  But, this is … I’m going to write it up as one of the worst,” said Hiles who has been in the racing industry for 40 years.

Saez was flown to Methodist hospital where he died last night from severe head trauma.  The last race of the day was canceled.  As the skies reflected above the track, Wednesday was a dark day at Indiana Grand.

The Indiana racing Commission’s initial reports indicate this was a fluke accident.  In June Indiana Grand earned the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance Accreditation.

There will be a short memorial before races resume Thursday at Indiana Grand.  Schultz estimates the memorial will be around 1:15pm ahead of the 2:05 post time of the first race.

The Marion County Coroner released  the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head. The manner of death has been ruled an accident.

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