Photos courtesy Benoit & Associates.
By Jack Shinar, Blood-Horse
In his first race in more than seven years, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens felt the thrill of being in front heading for the wire. But the exhilaration was short-lived as his mount Jebrica was passed in deep stretch.
Stevens, riding for the first time since November 2005, finished third aboard Jebrica Jan. 6 in a $50,000 claiming race on the turf at Santa Anita Park.
R & R Warren's Jebrica, a Washington-based 5-year-old gelding trained by Jim Penney and assistant Kay Cooper, had the lead at the sixteenth pole. But in spite of strong urging from Stevens, the bay could not hold off the late charge of Maybe Tuesday, who won the one-mile test by a neck with Aaron Gryder aboard. Deacon Speakin' nosed 11-2 third choice Jebrica for second.
Two months shy of his 50th birthday, Stevens announced Jan. 3 that he would launch his comeback. He had spent the preceding couple of months preparing for his return in what he called "a boot-camp type program" at the Pro Sports Club's 20/20 lifestyles program in Bellevue, Wash.
Stevens had Jebrica perfectly positioned after taking the lead out of the gate and settling into second at the rail behind pacesetter Rock This Way. Tracking the leader while racing at the rail alongside even-money choice Jimmy Simms, Jebrica advanced between horses to challenge at mid-stretch and took a narrow lead as Rock This Way and Jimmy Simms gave way.
But in the final strides, Stevens and Jebrica were overtaken on the outside by the fast-closing Maybe Tuesday with Deacon Speaking' also rallying from far back for Garrett Gomez for the place spot.
Maybe Tuesday paid $13 for the win. The final time was 1:34.05 over firm ground.
A three-time winner of both the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and a two-time Preakness (gr. I) winner, Stevens also counts eight Breeders' Cup scores among his 4,888 wins to date.
Stevens will have some time to mull his first race back. He is not scheduled to ride again until Jan. 11 in the third race at Santa Anita. He has the assignment on Diamond A Racing's maiden homebred Readyforhercloseup for trainer Richard Mandella.
STEVENS TALKS ABOUT HIS COMEBACK
Marc Doche, west coast blogger for America's Best Racing, talked to Gary Stevens after his return to racing and asked how it felt to be on the track after seven years away from race riding. Gary Stevens, riding for the first time since November 2005, finished third on Jebrica in a $50,000 claiming race on the turf at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 6.