Dusty Stimpson expects to climb into the irons on Old Habits at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico on Monday in the most unusual position.
Stimpson, a jockey of eight years from Utah who is better known for riding claimers and longshots, will be aboard a favorite for the first time at the $1,931,441 All-American Futurity, the crown jewel of American quarter horse racing.
This 440-yard race is, by far, the biggest of Stimpson's career.
"It makes me nervous a little bit," he said, "but I try to block it out."
Old Habits trainer Danny Cordoza, the all-time leading jockey at Los Alamitos Race Course, has plenty of confidence in Stimpson.
"If he wasn't one of the best, I wouldn't be having him ride for me," Cordoza said.
Stimpson, 25, began racing at state fairs in Utah when he was 17 and later rode at Wyoming Downs. He has had big victories at Los Alamitos during the past four seasons, but it wasn't until last year that he established himself as one of the track's top young riders. He posted wins aboard Macs Ease in the El Primero Del Ano Derby, Special Mongoose in the Independence Day and Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Assn. Breeders Derby and Prevailing Winds in the Bull Rastus Handicap and Quarter Horse Breeders Council Marathon.
Before that, his rise to become the sixth-leading Los Alamitos money winner in 1997 was mainly based on his ability to handle a variety of longshot mounts.
"I've just been lucky with them," Stimpson said. "All jockeys fit horses differently."
Cordoza, manager of the Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, hired Stimpson in the off-season to work on the ranch and get acquainted. Later, Cordoza put him aboard some of his horses.
Cordoza said Stimpson shouldn't be judged by his quiet demeanor. He knows how to get the job done. "He's got a really good head on his shoulders," Cordoza said.
The success of Old Habits, a bargain-priced gelding, was a longshot. The 2-year-old was purchased on a lark by a group of 10 Orange County women, who raised the price of $18,500 just to see what it would be like to own a horse.
Stimpson said he never thought the horse would be that good a racer because it didn't take well to the whip. In the All American trials, Stimpson said, Old Habits broke awkwardly but he was able to redirect the horse to post the best time (21.55 seconds) among 176 entrants in 18 trials.
Blane Schvaneveldt has his share of records and firsts in his 40-year career, but last Sunday the perennial leading trainer at Los Alamitos recorded an unusual success.
In the ninth race, Fashionable Late, an unknown 3-year-old gelding, posted the top 350-yard time of the meet (17.33 seconds), beating the 17.46 held by two other horses.
The $9,500 allowance victory came in Fashionable Late's first start at Los Alamitos. It was also his first start under Schvaneveldt.
Schvaneveldt was unavailable for comment, but a track spokesman said it's possible that Fashionable Late will be peaked to several upcoming stakes races.
Owned by Dale Smith, Fashionable Late has a checkered racing history. A year ago, the gelding won a heat of the 1997 All-American Futurity, but failed to qualify for the finals. He didn't get another start until last April, when he won a derby trial in Arizona.