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Stevens Pilots Great Hot in Santa Maria

Jockey Gary Stevens

Gary Stevens rides Great Hot for the first time in Saturday’s Grade II Santa Maria Stakes. By the time he gets a leg up from trainer A. C. Avila, they’ll be like best buds.

“I’ve watched her ever since she’s been here,” said Stevens, who won two stakes races at Santa Anita last weekend. “She’s hot and cold, but I’m looking forward to riding her. I asked A.C. about her a couple weeks back. I think I fit her all right. She looks like my kind of horse.”

A 5-year-old Brazilian-bred mare by 2002 Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Orientate, Great Hot hasn’t won since capturing the Grade II Raven Run at Keeneland in October of 2011, a string of 13 straight losses.

But that doesn’t discourage Stevens, a Hall of Fame rider and three-time Kentucky Derby winner who began a comeback at the age of 49 on Jan. 6 after a seven-year absence. Through 31 racing days at Santa Anita, Stevens had four wins, 12 seconds and three thirds from 37 mounts.

Stevens, who turns 50 on March 6, has kept things in perspective as his business increases. On Feb. 23, he rides Triple Crown hopeful Proud Strike for Steve Asmussen in the Grade II, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at the Fair Grounds. Proud Strike, a son of Smart Strike, was a 7 ½-length maiden winner at the New Orleans track on Jan. 12. Stevens will also ride Midnight Bulletin for Tom Proctor in the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes.

“I’m so happy with the people I’m riding for and the opportunities that are being given to me,” said Stevens, who still finds time to lend his expert analysis on HRTV and NBC-TV. “I didn’t really expect that; I didn’t know what to expect.

“I said that going in. You can say it was an experiment, but it wasn’t. This is what I was hoping for. Last weekend was a huge boost, winning a couple of stakes races that people notice.

“Basically it’s like re-proving yourself all over again. It doesn’t matter what I did the past 30 years; it’s about now, and that’s how this game has always been.”

The field for the Santa Maria: Great Hot, Gary Stevens, 8-1; Book Review, Rafael Bejarano, 8-5; Private Affair, Hector Berrios, 8-1; Going for a Spin, Edwin Maldonado, 8-1; Lady of Fifty, Joe Talamo, 2-1; and Snow Fall, Tyler Baze, 9-5. 

 

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