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Breeders’ Cup May Eclipse Stevens’ Year

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Desert Stormer’s victory in the Sprint wasn’t the only surprise on Breeders’ Cup day.

Given the performance of Gary Stevens over the first three-quarters - plus of 1995, it was a shock that he didn’t win a Breeders’ Cup race.

In what has been a jockey’s dream year, Stevens has won both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, the Santa Anita Handicap and Santa Anita Derby, and the Travers, to name a few of his Grade I scores. He also has been the regular rider for 3-year-old champions Thunder Gulch and Serena’s Song, and the probable 2-year-old filly champion, Golden Attraction. He is averaging close to $15,000 per mount.

Yet, all this may not be enough to land Stevens his first Eclipse Award as the year’s top rider. He went 0 for 6 in the Breeders’ Cup and Jerry Bailey won two races--the Juvenile Fillies with My Flag and the Classic with Cigar--and that may swing the vote Bailey’s way. Corey Nakatani is also an Eclipse contender, but a longshot.

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Although the award would be the perfect ending to a remarkable year, Stevens won’t be upset if he doesn’t win.

“The Triple Crown races are the only three races a lot of media members see until the Breeders’ Cup,” he said. “And people tend to go with their last memory instead of what happened earlier in the year.

“But the end of the year isn’t Nov. 1, and there are a lot of races still to be run. No matter what happens, I’ll go to sleep [the night the winner is announced] and I’ll sleep fine, knowing I’ve had a . . . year I can be proud of.”

Won’t there be some thought, Stevens was asked, that if he doesn’t win it this time, he’ll never win an Eclipse?

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“I don’t have that kind of attitude,” he said. “My mind set is that this is, hopefully, going to be the first of many, many good years. [The Eclipse] is very important to me as a rider and I’d like to win it before I quit riding.

“I think I’ve matured a lot and gained the respect of a lot of horsemen throughout the country this year and that when they need somebody to ride in a big race in the future, hopefully, I’ll be the guy that they will call.

Not being able to add to his three previous Breeders’ Cup victories was a disappointment for Stevens.

Golden Attraction, whom Stevens considered a “lock” in the Juvenile Fillies, didn’t handle the off track and finished third. And Fastness, who ran second in the Mile behind Ridgewood Pearl, wasn’t comfortable on the extremely soggy turf course.

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“I think if Golden Attraction and Fastness had run on [different] surfaces, I would have been sitting in the winner’s circle after both races,” he said.

“My head was hanging a bit at the end of the day, but you can’t dwell on it and you can’t change what happened. I had to go out the next day and ride in three $100,000 races, and I had to be focused on those.”

Stevens won one of those races, the Nassau Handicap on 13-1 shot Debutant Trick, on his final day in New York. He rode at Belmont Park for more than six weeks after the Del Mar meeting ended Sept. 13.

He has no plans to go east permanently, although he said skipping Del Mar to ride at Saratoga one summer is a possibility. He would then go on to Belmont’s fall meeting before returning to California.

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“I enjoyed myself there. It’s always good to try something new and different,” said Stevens, who also rode for a few months in Hong Kong early in the year.

“I lived in Garden City and I got a chance to spend some time in New York City, which is something I had never done before. I got to ride for a lot of new outfits and saw some things I liked, but California is home. The best racing in the world is right here, and I don’t plan on moving.”

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Stevens will have eight opportunities to increase his 1995 earnings in the $1-million California Cup on Saturday, then he’ll ride either Wandesta or Privity for trainer Bobby Frankel in the $600,000 Yellow Ribbon on Sunday.

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A total of 89 California-breds were entered in the nine Cal Cup races, including one of the most famous Cal breds of all time, Best Pal.

Trying for his second victory in the day’s richest race, the $250,000 Classic, the 7-year-old Habitony gelding was made the even-money favorite against nine opponents.


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