• STEVENS HAS BROTHERLY LOVE FOR ROLE MODEL
• UNBEATEN BAKKEN INVADES FOR GRADE I MALIBU
• TALAMO STAYS PUT FOR MADAME CACTUS IN LA BREA
• THERE’S NO JET LAG FOR SIR BEAUFORT CONTENDER
STEVENS REFLECTS ON HIS ‘MOST MEMORABLE YEAR’
Next month will mark a year since Gary Stevens made his comeback nearing 50 after a seven-year retirement, and what a ride it’s been.
While he’s thrilled with the results of 2013, Gary is looking forward to 2014, not only for himself, but his brother, Scott, who is among the five finalists for Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award next year.
To no one’s surprise, Scott’s staunchest supporter is Gary, who won one of Thoroughbred racing’s biggest honors himself in 1996 when he was named the 47th Woolf winner.
Despite his vested interest, Gary is steadfast in his belief that Scott is worthy of the award, which is voted on by peers and honors riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport. The other Woolf finalists are David Amiss, Dennis Carr, Aaron Gryder and Corey Lanerie.
At 52, Scott has never gained the international or monetary acclaim of his younger brother, who turns 51 this March 6. But that doesn’t diminish one iota the love and respect Gary holds, and bloodlines have nothing to do with it.
“I think he’s very deserving of the award,” Gary said. “Not just because it’s my brother but because he exemplifies what the award’s all about. He’s a class act.
“When people ask me who I idolize in the sport, he’s the guy. I wish that I behaved off the track like he does. He’s my hero, not only as a rider, but more as a person. I’m rooting for him. He’s been nominated a couple of times, so hopefully, this is the year.”
Scott has overcome life-threatening injuries several times during a career that began nearly 40 years go, winning more than 4,250 races at nationally under-the-radar ports of call such as Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Canada, Emerald Downs near Seattle, briefly in Northern and Southern California, and Les Bois Park in his home state of Idaho.
All that pales by light years, of course, to Gary, whose accomplishments shocked the racing world in 2013. Included among his 4,954 career triumphs were victories in this year’s Preakness Stakes, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Little wonder Gary is a candidate for his second Eclipse Award as North America’s Outstanding Jockey, having won it in 1998. Not to be overlooked are his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1997, three Kentucky Derby victories, and 10 triumphs in Breeders’ Cup races, tying him at fifth all-time with Lanfranco Dettori and Corey Nakatani.
Add to the laurels a highly acclaimed acting debut in the 2002 movie mega hit, “Seabiscuit,” in which he portrayed none other than George Woolf himself, and gigs as analyst for HRTV and NBC-TV, and there’s little doubt Gary has a Jack-of-all-trades mindset, except that he masters them all.
As to Gary’s wild ride this year, “It couldn’t have been much better,” he said. “I was in Vegas doing a book-signing a few days ago and during an interview, the guy says it looks like it’s going to be between you and (Javier) Castellano for an Eclipse Award, and I started laughing.
“I said, ‘Just to have that mentioned at this time of year is amazing.’ I didn’t leave Seattle until Dec. 20 last year. That’s when I came back to California from my fitness training . . . If somebody had told me then that I was going to be in the running for an Eclipse Award, I would have just laughed at them and thought they were making fun at me or something.
“But we’ve had a fun year. Craig (agent Craig O’Bryan) has done an unbelievable job; my horses have been unbelievable, the trainers and owners and everybody. It’s been a fun, fun year, the most memorable of my career.”
BROWN HIGH ON BAKKEN FOR OPENING DAY MALIBU
Unbeaten on the track and unknown in quality, Bakken invades from the East Coast for the Grade I Malibu Stakes on opening day.
Bred in the purple, a 3-year-old colt by Distorted Humor out of the Honour and Glory mare General Jeanne, Bakken was no secret in his only two starts, winning his maiden race by 6 ½ lengths as the 9-5 favorite Oct. 13 at Belmont Park before returning to win by 2 ¼ lengths at 2-5 Nov. 23 at Aqueduct.
Each time the Kentucky-bred bay owned by Mr. and Mrs. William Warren was ridden by Eclipse Award finalist Javier Castellano.
“Bakken ran like he’d been training,” said trainer Chad Brown, who also will bring supplemental nominee Hamnet to Santa Anita for the Grade II Sir Beaufort Stakes on opening day.
“He always showed a lot of talent in the morning. It just took him time to get to the races. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Bred by Hermitage Farm LLC and WinStar Farm LLC, Bakken sold for $450,000 at the Keeneland Sales in 2011.
His two victories came in front-running fashion at six furlongs. He was never headed in either race, going to the front and improving his position, receiving Beyer figures of 97 and 96, respectively.
Probable for the Malibu: Bakken, Javier Castellano; Central Banker, Joe Talamo; Demonic, Corey Nakatani; Flashback, Joel Rosario; Heir of Storm, Gary Stevens; Holy Lute, Mike Smith; San Onofre, no rider; Shakin It Up, no rider; Zee Bros, no rider; and Zeewat, Rafael Bejarano.
TALAMO STICKS TO MADAME CACTUS AT SANTA ANITA IN LA BREA
There will be no 11th-hour travel drama when Joe Talamo rides Madame Cactus for trainer Peter Eurton in the Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on opening day.
Such was the case prior to the Grade II Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland last Oct. 19, when Talamo was scheduled to ride the daughter of Cactus Ridge for owners Mr. and Mrs. Marc Ferrell, but due to Murphy’s Law, stayed at Santa Anita and missed what turned out to be an 11-1 upset victory from the 14th post position with Joe Rocco Jr. in the saddle.
Talamo’s agent, Scotty McClellan, describes what happened.
“There were 16 horses entered in the Raven Run, and she was No. 16, but didn’t have enough graded earnings to get in. They entered three hours at Keeneland before we entered at Santa Anita, and I had taken off like six, seven horses here to ride her at Keeneland.”
But when it was thought Madame Cactus wouldn’t draw in, McClellan scurried to regain his mounts at Santa Anita.
“I was able to get back on a few and wound up winning two with two seconds, but I couldn’t put Joe on a plane,” he said. “Madame Cactus wasn’t in the (body of the) race. I said, ‘Pete, I can’t put him on a plane. Do you want to pay for him to go back and not ride?’
“At noon in Kentucky, we got a call and were told the horse got in the race. She ran and won. That’s how it all happened.
“I’ve been working her since and we planned on the La Brea all along.”
MINUS WISE DAN, NO JET LAG SET FOR SIR BEAUFORT
No Jet Lag joined an ever-expanding list on Nov. 2: one of a coterie of horses beaten by Wise Dan.
The loss came in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, a race reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan was winning for the second straight time. No Jet Lag had captured his first two U.S. starts for trainer Simon Callaghan prior to the Mile, including the Grade II City of Hope Mile on Oct. 5, before finishing sixth by six lengths behind Wise Dan.
Callaghan expects the 3-year-old gelded son of 2003 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Johar to rebound on opening day in the Grade II Sir Beaufort Stakes at one mile on the grass.
“He ran a little rank in the race,” Callaghan said of the BC Mile. “He probably got a little too close to the strong pace. But we gave him time off after that; he didn’t run at Hollywood, and he’s training well for the Sir Beaufort.”
Owned by Anthony Ramsden of Newmarket, England, No Jet Lag’s two victories in North America came at one mile on the grass.
Probable for the Sir Beaufort: Gervinho, Rafael Bejarano; Hamnet, Javier Castellano; No Jet Lag, Joel Rosario; Rookie Sensation, Victor Espinoza; and Tom’s Tribute, Mike Smith.
HRTV’S POPULAR ‘WESTROCK COFFEE FIRST CALL’ DEBUTS AT NEW TIME
HRTV’s “Westrock Coffee First Call” will present a special opening day edition at a new starting time, 9 a.m. Pacific, next Thursday, Dec. 26.
The show previously began at 8 a.m. Pacific Time. Co-hosted by Aaron Vercruysse and Jeff Siegel, “Westrock” normally airs Saturdays and Sundays from Clockers’ Corner at the top of the homestretch at Santa Anita.
Meanwhile, HRTV’s popular “Race Day America” continues daily starting at 10 a.m. Pacific. The informative one-hour show previews the day’s major races and offers key workouts, interviews and analyses.
FINISH LINES: Next Thursday, Dec. 26, Santa Anita offers free with paid admission its popular wall calendar, a traditional opening day giveaway. Always artfully and tastefully presented, the 2014 theme is “Flying Silks,” featuring the silk colors of prominent owners. . . Christmas Shoppers alert: Champions! Gift Shop is open through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The popular venue adjacent to the walking ring at Santa Anita offers a wide variety of unique quality clothing and mementoes sure to please racing aficionados.