The day after Gary Stevens took another nasty spill, this time injuring his left shoulder, he was not only back riding at Santa Anita but kicking home three winners, one of whom was Farma Way by 3 1/2 lengths in the $108,500 San Carlos Handicap.
“I had to ride today,” Stevens joked later. “My wife (Toni) wouldn’t have let me go skiing the next two days if I hadn’t worked today.”
Stevens says that most jockeys are resilient, but few can match his career, which has been one long study in the quick comeback. For example:
--In 1985, Stevens suffered a broken shoulder and torn knee ligaments in an accident during a morning workout at Santa Anita. Doctors predicted a six-month healing period, but Stevens returned in 11 weeks.
--Late in 1987, after suffering a broken ankle in a gate accident at Santa Anita, he made a determined return, riding horses in 1988 that earned $13.7 million. That was Stevens’ career high until he totaled $13.8 million last year to win the national title.
--In 1989, on the turf at Del Mar, Stevens fell, suffering a broken wrist and splitting open his forehead, but was out for six weeks.
--Last December, in a five-horse pileup at Hollywood Park, Stevens suffered a broken right elbow, and instead of being out four weeks, he was back riding in less than two, protecting the lead that led to the national money title.
“All jockeys are quick healers,” Stevens said Sunday. “Look at guys like Chris (McCarron) and Laffit (Pincay), how fast they’ve come back. I think that’s because they always keep themselves fit. Riding horses isn’t like football and basketball and some of those other sports, where you’ve got time to let down when the season ends. In racing, the season never ends.”
Stevens, 27, still has a screw in his shoulder from one of his spills, so as a precaution he went for X-rays Saturday night. He also bowled in the track league Saturday night--"Nothing higher than 115, I didn’t do very well"--and with only four hours’ sleep, he worked a half-dozen horses Sunday morning. “Right after I got off the first one, I knew I’d be all right,” Stevens said.
The prospect of boarding Farma Way for the third time in the last five weeks had to fuel Stevens’ eagerness. “I couldn’t fathom this horse not running big,” trainer Wayne Lukas had said before the race.
Lukas took over the training of Farma Way about five months ago, and when Stevens got to ride the 4-year-old colt for the first time, they finished a close-up fourth on the grass at Hollywood Park, which was the first start in seven months for the Marfa offspring.
Three weeks later, at Santa Anita, Farma Way won by seven lengths in a dirt sprint. “I remember this horse when Ray Sibille rode him (for trainer Neil Boyce),” Stevens said. “He would wash out and lose his races in the post parade. Wayne’s done a great job with him, and now he’s got another monster on his hands.”
In the San Carlos post parade, Farma Way might have looked sweaty to some of the 24,740 fans, but that’s because, with the weather turning warm, Lukas sponged him with a bucket of water in the paddock.
Frost Free, who had won all six of his dirt starts at Santa Anita, was the 13-10 favorite under high weight of 121 pounds. Chris McCarron, trying to win his fourth straight stake, broke Frost Free quickly, but Farma Way, outside them under 115 pounds, battled for the lead all the way down the backstretch. The first fractions were :22 2/5 for the quarter-mile and :45 for the half, slow by Frost Free’s standards.
“My horse wouldn’t clear the other horses down the backstretch,” McCarron said. “He’s fast enough to do it, and he didn’t. Going :22 2/5 is like walking for my horse.”
Every time McCarron would chirp to Frost Free, Farma Way would pull Stevens away from his rival. On the turn for home, Farma Way cut loose. The horse who ran second, Yes I’m Blue, is also a son of Marfa, who won the 1983 Santa Anita Derby for Lukas. Yes I’m Blue had a half-length on Tanker Port, who finished third, a neck better than Frost Free. Farma Way’s time for the seven furlongs was 1:21 2/5, and he paid $7.20 to win as the second betting choice, earning $63,500 for his owner, George Bunn of Springfield, Ill.
“The track was duller than it was when he ran here last,” said John Sadler, who trains Frost Free. “It didn’t have the bounce to it that this horse likes. Other than that, I can’t think of an excuse. The winner ran a great race.”
Horse Racing Notes
Laffit Pincay and Gary Stevens won all of Sunday’s races except two, with Pincay visiting the winner’s circle four times. Chris McCarron, with one winner, now has 22, the same total as Stevens, for the first 15 days of the meet, and Pincay is next in the standings with 17. The three of them have won 45% of the races. . . . One of Pincay’s winners was Magical Mile, who ran six furlongs in 1:21 2/5 under a hand ride.
Farma Way gave Wayne Lukas consecutive stakes wins. He saddled A Wild Ride to win the El Encino on Saturday. . . . Lukas is considering the 1 1/4-mile Strub for Farma Way Feb. 10. . . . Brian Mayberry, who has won five races at the meet, two less than Bill Spawr, will send out Garden Gal Wednesday in the La Centinela Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Angel Cordero will be in from New York to ride.