5 Questions for Kiaran McLaughlin

Lexington native Kiaran McLauglin fell in love with horse racing as a 12-year-old, and hasn’t looked back since. After getting his start in the industry as a hotwalker in 1979, McLaughlin got his big break in 1985, when he went to work for legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas. After seven years with Lukas, he served a brief stint as a jockey agent for Chris Hanley, and then went on to train for Dubai-based Godolphin for 26 years. But in 2019, McLaughlin was one of 11 horsemen fined by the New York State Department of Labor for a violation of minimum wage requirements. “Everybody knows that I was fined by the state a lot of money, and it just kind of hurt my feelings,” he says. “I was trying to do everything properly, but it’s hard with H-2B visas and workmans comp and all the different hourly wages. It’s very difficult, so I’m happy to do what I’m doing now.” What he’s doing now is working again as a jockey agent, this time for reigning lead Saratoga rider Luis Saez. Saratoga Living chatted with McLaughlin a few weeks before the Belmont to talk about his new role, Saez’s recent success and why the trainer-turned-agent loves Saratoga Race Course.

1. What does a jockey agent do?

Jockey agents book all the workouts and races for the jockey, so mounts for the jockeys. The racing office will send us a text that says “the draw will take place at noon today for Saturday,” and we all get on a Zoom call so we can listen to the horses in the race, the trainers, and the jockeys named on the horses. Sometimes Irad Ortiz will be named on two or three in a race and the trainers will need a jockey late, so we all jump on the phone to tell the trainers we’re available (if we’re available). 

2. For what trainers does Saez typically ride?

Many trainers really like that he rides the cheaper horses or the lesser purses as hard as he rides the Grade 1 horses, so he rides for everybody—we don’t really have anybody that we don’t ride for or can’t ride for. Our biggest supporter is probably Todd Pletcher. He’s a very good friend of mine; we both worked for Wayne Lukas and our wives are very close, so he has been very supportive of us.

3. What are some of Saez’s biggest accomplishments since you became his agent?

I would say winning his first Breeders’ Cup on Essential Quality as a 2-year-old, and then winning an American Classic on the same horse at the Belmont. The World Cup last year was a huge win—Mystic Guide in Dubai—and then being leading rider at Saratoga was fabulous. The Kentucky Oaks ranks up there very high for us, too.

4. Do you think you’ll ever go back to training?

I’m not going to say never, because you never know, but I sure love working for Luis. He’s really a classy person with a great wife and three daughters. He’s an outstanding jockey along with being a pleasure to work with, so I hope I can keep working for him and not go back to training.

5. You’ve said Saratoga is your favorite racing meet. Why is that?

It’s a great town. It reminds me a lot of Lexington, KY, where I grew up. It’s very horsey. But the races to me are the best racing in the world for the six weeks. The neat thing about it is the cell brings people from around the world so I get to see friends and different people from England, Ireland, France, Dubai—wherever. It’s just great racing and a great place to be for the summer.  

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