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.