From all outward appearances, you’d have never known he left. Hall
of Fame superstar jockey Gary Stevens
, who retired from the saddle in
November, 2005, looked fit as a fiddle in his comeback ride on Sunday at
Santa Anita as he guided Washington-bred Jebrica to a third-place
finish in the sixth race going a flat mile on turf.
“That’s the first time I’ve knuckled down on one in seven years,
and it felt good,” said the Caldwell, Idaho native who turns 50 on
March 6. “I rode long enough to know that turning into the backside, I
was going to be loaded coming into the stretch. I was looking over at
Julien (Leparoux, aboard even money favorite Jimmy Simms), and he was
just to my outside and had some horse.
“I knew I was going to be able to float out coming into the lane.
Tyler’s horse (Baze, aboard pacesetter Rock This Way) floated out just
a tad coming off the turn. It was a perfect trip and like I said, it
felt really good. I thought, ‘Man, this is going to be a storybook
comeback.’ It wasn’t meant to be, but it was close enough.”
Jebrica, trained by veteran Northwest-based trainer Jim Penney
and dispatched as the 5-1 third choice in a filed of seven older horses
entered for a claiming tag of $50,000, was sitting third with Stevens, a
length and a half off of pacesetter Rock This Way and Tyler Baze,
leaving the half mile pole. Stevens hugged the rail and made the lead
turning into the stretch, opening up by a length approaching the eighth
pole only to be caught near the wire by two horses flying from off the
pace; Maybe Tuesday and Deacon Speakin’.
“It was exciting not just for us, but also for Washington and the
whole racing industry,” said Penney’s son-in-law and assistant Bryson
Cooper, who rode with Stevens 30 years ago in the Northwest. “We’re
really happy with the effort—if Gary could’ve finished on a horse, he
might’ve won,” he said laughing. “He (Jebrica) ran very good. We’re
very pleased with him.”
Beaten a nose for second money, Jebrica paid $4.20 to show.
Stevens, whose 4,888 victories include three Kentucky Derbies,
eight Breeders’ Cup races, two in the Preakness, three Belmonts, a
record nine Santa Anita Derbies and four Santa Anita Handicaps, retired
with $221,212,704 in purse money won.
Widely applauded for a key role in the 2003 blockbuster hit movie
Seabiscuit, Stevens is currently a racing analyst for HRTV and NBC.
“I’ve got to go shower and I’ve got to get into the (HRTV)
booth,” said Stevens following his comeback ride. “I want to make the
Monrovia (Grade II Stakes, the eighth on Santa Anita’s Sunday program).”
It is expected Stevens will ride on a selective basis throughout
Santa Anita’s winter/spring meeting, which runs through April 21.