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.”