By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: A total of four well-known US jockeys have now tested positive for coronavirus since the start of July, with high-profile riders Luis Saez and Victor Espinoza both being taken off mounts on Friday.
They follow Martin Garcia and Gerard Melancon, who also returned positive tests in the last week or so in different parts of the country.
Saez is likely to face a ten-day quarantine period after being removed from his later mounts after riding in a race at Keeneland on Friday, which means the Panamanian will be unavailable to ride Saudi Cup winner Maximum Security when the horse returns to action next weekend at Del Mar.
Saez, 28, is currently fifth of the US jockeys’ list in prize-money earnings. He was the latest well-known rider to test positive this month after Martin Garcia and Gerard Melancon. A fourth emerged later on Friday in the shape of Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah to win the Triple Crown in 2015. Three of them were riding at Los Alamitos last Saturday.
After riding runner-up Fortuna in the second race on the third day of the abbreviated five-day summer meet at Keeneland, Saez was taken off his later mounts when health officials informed the track he had tested positive for coronavirus.
According to a Daily Racing Form report, Saez, who remains asymptomatic, had provided a swab on Thursday morning. He had tested negative on Sunday in New York.
Saez has been travelling around the country for rides in the last week. Although he rode at Belmont Park on Friday and Sunday, he jetted to Los Alamitos in southern California for their rich Saturday card, where Garcia and Espinoza also rode. Saez rode Uncle Chuck to victory in the Los Alamitos Derby.
Saez also rode at Indiana Grand on Wednesday before moving on to Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky.
“He was there at Los Al with Martin, so maybe it was there,” said Saez’s agent Kiaran McLaughlin, speaking to the Daily Racing Form.
“I don’t really know. He’s a young, strong, fit guy, so we can just hope for the best.”
Saez is the regular rider of Maximum Security, having partnered the colt both in his controversial effort in last year’s Kentucky Derby, after which he was disqualified from first place, and his victorious effort in the inaugural running of the world’s richest race, the $20, Saudi Cup, in February.
Transferred to Bob Baffert from Jason Servis after shocking allegations involving the involvement of Servis in systemic doping, Maximum Security is scheduled to make his comeback in the G2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 18.
Saez has ridden 151 winners in North America in 2020 for more than $6m in purse earnings.
Martin Garcia, who has also been moving around the country in recent weeks, tested positive earlier this week. After riding at Churchill Downs for most of June, he has ridden at Ellis Park in Kentucky, Los Alamitos and Prairie Meadows in Iowa.
He was travelling to Indiana when informed of the positive test and is now in quarantine back in Kentucky.
Victor Espinoza, 48, was taken off his mount on Friday’s opening-day card at Del Mar awaiting the results of a coronavirus test taken the previous day.
According to the Daily Racing Form, the three-time Kentucky Derby victor was able to get another test on Friday that returned a positive result. Unlike Saez and Garcia, Espinoza has not travelled by aeroplane in the last couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, Louisiana-based Gerald Melancon is quarantined at home after testing positive for COVID-19.
Melancon, 53, has ridden nearly 5,000 winners. He last rode at Lone Star Park near Dallas on June 28, after which he reportedly spiked a fever and felt dizzy. He subsequently failed a coronavirus test.
Lone Star has yet to reopen after shutting down last Sunday [July 5] after an employee tested positive.
War Of Will becomes G1 winner on dirt and turf
Last year’s Preakness Stakes winner War Of Will (Mark Casse/Tyler Gaffalione) wore down Parlor in the final strides in a thrilling finish to the Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland on Friday.
In so doing, he became one of those rare beasts to have won G1 events on both dirt and turf. It was the four-year-old’s first victory since the second leg of last year’s Triple Crown.