Headley & Stevens Team Up in SA Derby

Jockey Gary Stevens

In terms of Santa Anita Derby wins, Bruce Headley is a rookie, despite his 78 years. Gary Stevens, on the other hand, has won the West Coast’s major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby a record nine times.

Headley and Stevens, no spring chicken himself in jockey years at 50, team up Saturday when Stevens rides Storm Fighter for Headley in the Santa Anita Derby.

Headley has never won the race, whose winners have gone on to capture the Run for the Roses nine times. A trainer of the hay, oats and water philosophy since he began his career in 1963, the California native was second once, in 1992 with Bertrando, who led into the stretch before 9-10 favorite A.P. Indy overtook him under Eddie Delahoussaye to win by nearly two lengths.

“Bertrando was a great horse and a great stallion, who still has his progeny doing well at the races,” said Headley, who on Saturday tries his luck in the 76th Santa Anita Derby with promising California-bred maiden winner Storm Fighter.

Bertrando, Eclipse Award winner as champion Older Male in 1993 and a leading California sire before his retirement in 2011, won or placed in 15 Grade I or Grade II stakes. He earned $3,185,610.

A bay colt by Stormin Fever out of the Deputy Commander mare Throne Seeker, Storm Fighter is owned by one of the state’s iconic Thoroughbred operations, Golden Eagle Farm.

“They’ve had great horses at Golden Eagle and this one is an exceptionally good-looking horse,” Headley said of Storm Fighter, who broke his maiden against older horses by nearly six lengths going a mile and a sixteenth. “He looks like a mile and a quarter horse, with high withers, big shoulders and big girth. He’s a big horse.”

It doesn’t hurt his chances that Headley has Stevens riding with his record nine Santa Anita Derby victories. This will be his first ride in the race since coming off a seven-year retirement three months ago. His last Santa Anita Derby win came in 2003 aboard Buddy Gil.

“We’re lucky to have Stevens,” Headley said.

The feeling is mutual.

“I love my draw,” the Hall of Fame jockey said. “It’s a perfect fit.”

Stevens has already done his pre-race homework. Now it’s in the hands of fate. “When the gates open,” he said, “it’s up to the Man Upstairs and the four feet of my horse.

“He’s obviously an intelligent colt to be able to come off of a sprint race where he sat just a couple lengths off a 21 and two first quarter, a 44 and change half. You would have thought he would have been in front when we stretched him out to two turns.

“I told them I was just going to let him get away from there and he sat 3 ½ lengths off an almost 24 first quarter and a 47 half. He was very kind, very ratable and finished up the right way. His works have been outstanding since he’s come back from that race.

“The only work I rode him was the mile where he went 1:40. He finished up the right way that morning, so I’m pleased and they’re pleased.”

Stevens is scheduled to leave for Kentucky after Sunday’s riding engagements here. “I ride Wednesday, Thursday and Friday there, and ride (Oxbow for D. Wayne Lukas) in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday (April 13).

“Then the following week I ride Titletown Five (also for Lukas) in the Illinois Derby (April 20), fly back here and if everything goes according to plan, ride Smart Ellis in the San Juan.”

The field for the Santa Anita Derby, race nine of 11: Flashback, Garrett Gomez, 6-5; Power Broker, Rafael Bejarano, 4-1; Tiz a Minister, Joe Talamo, 5-1; Goldencents, Kevin Krigger, 9-2; Super Ninety Nine, Martin Garcia, 9-2; Summer Exclusive, Edwin Maldonado, 20-1; Storm Fighter, Gary Stevens, 15-1; and Dirty Swagg, Tyler Baze, 30-1.

Each horse carries 122 pounds. Hear the Ghost was scratched yesterday due to injury.


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