Jockey Luis Saez earned his 3,000th career victory when Rudy Rodriguez trainee Funny Joke remained undefeated with a neck victory in Race 6 on Sunday at Belmont Park.
“I enjoy every horse I ride. That’s my happiness and my joy. I’m blessed to be here,” Saez said. “To get 3,000 winners is a lot for me. I never imagined I would be here, but we’re here and we just enjoy the moment. I’m blessed it happened at Belmont, a place I always dreamed of. This is the biggest deal for me.”
Funny Joke, who broke his maiden in March at Aqueduct, raced in last of 5 and was patiently handled by Saez throughout the 6 1/2-furlong starter allowance. Saez asked the 3-year-old Practical Joke colt for more at the top of the stretch and Funny Joke answered, running determinedly to secure the narrow victory over Baltasar.
“It was a good race,” Saez said. “That horse is a second-time starter and that was the plan to break and [rate]. He did everything perfect. When we came to the top of the stretch, he gave me that kick and he got the job done.”
Saez, a 30-year-old native of Panama City, Panama, is a graduate of the Laffit Pincay Jr. Jockey Training Academy in Panama and began his American riding career at Calder Race Course in August 2009. He piloted his first winner on August 20 that year at the Miami Gardens oval, skimming the rail aboard Fearless Honor and earning a 3 1/2-length victory.
He went on to capture his first stakes victory just four weeks later aboard Cinnamon Road in the Needles at Calder and subsequently earned another stakes triumph with Sweetlalabye in the Florida Stallion My Dear Girl Division. Saez’s first graded win came in the 2010 Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap aboard Twilight Meteor for trainer Martin Wolfson.
Since then, Saez has earned over 150 other graded victories, including more than two dozen top-level events that started with a Travers (G1) score aboard Will Take Charge in 2013. Saez earned his first Breeders’ Cup victory in the 2020 Juvenile (G1) aboard Essential Quality, who would go on to give Saez his first Triple Crown race victory as well in the 2021 Belmont Stakes (G1) and subsequently another Travers victory that summer.
“It was a special moment here last year with that horse,” Saez said of Essential Quality.
Essential Quality’s Travers was one of 64 wins at the 2021 Saratoga Race Course meeting for Saez, who won his first riding title for a meet that included five other graded wins and earnings of over $6.2 million.
This year, Saez continues to find Grade 1 success earned his first Kentucky Oaks victory aboard Secret Oath for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He also guided Shirl’s Speight to a narrow victory over Masen in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile and Bella Sofia to a Grade 3 Vagrancy win.
Other Grade 1 wins at NYRA for Saez include the Diana [Somali Lemonade, 2014], the Test [Paola Queen, 2016; Bella Sofia, 2021], the Hopeful [Sporting Chance, 2017], the Man o’ War [Hi Happy, 2018], the Cigar Mile Handicap [Maximum Security, 2019; Americanrevolution, 2021], the Spinaway [Vequist, 2020], the Woody Stephens [No Parole, 2020], the Ballerina [Serengeti Empress, 2020], the Fourstardave [Halladay, 2020] and the Woodward [Global Campaign, 2020; Art Collector, 2021].
Saez has displayed his talents overseas as well, guiding Mystic Guide to a resounding Dubai World Cup (G1) victory last year for his first international graded win.
Saez will look to secure another Belmont Stakes victory this year aboard Grade 1-placed Ethereal Road for Lukas.
“Riding in the Belmont Stakes again this year is meaningful,” said Saez. “We just keep doing what we do.