Gary Stevens isn’t getting any younger, but the Hall of Fame jockey can still find youthful enthusiasm in the horses he races.
The 54-year-old did that again on Saturday at Del Mar in a victory aboard what could be a rising star in 4-year-old Giant Expectations.
Faced with a tough decision between two of trainer Peter Eurton’s horses for the Grade II Pat O’Brien Stakes, with the winner receiving a berth in November’s Breeders’ Cup, Stevens picked Giant Expectations over 6-year-old Kobe’s Back, a horse he’d ridden nine times and called “one of my all-time favorites.”
“It was a really tough decision,” Stevens said, but it certainly was the right one.
Forced six wide in the turn in the 7-furlong, guaranteed $200,000 race, Giant Expectations ($11.40) fired strong late and chased down Calculator, beating him by 1½ lengths, with Silent Bird finishing third.
Kobe’s Back, with Flavien Prat riding following the meet-leading jockey’s victory aboard Battle of Midway in Saturday’s Shared Belief Stakes, never contended and finished sixth.
“He chose him for his youth,” Eurton said of Stevens and Giant Expectations. “He still has a lot of upside to him. I didn’t think he would run this big, but I’m glad he did.”
Said Stevens, who captured his third Del Mar stake of the season and 97th overall here, “You saw what he did. And he’s shown me that in the mornings.”
The race seemingly became a wide-open affair when favorite Danzing Candy was scratched on Friday with a career-ending ankle injury.
Silent Bird became the updated morning-line favorite at 4-1 and went off as the public’s second choice at 3-1, slightly behind Moe Candy (who finished last).
With nine previous starts, Giant Expectations won two races at New York’s Belmont Park in the spring, and in a 1-mile race on opening day at Del Mar he was edged by a strong 3-year-old in Gato Del Oro.
The O’Brien victory earns the final Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” spot from Del Mar’s summer meet, with Giant Expectations heading for the Dirt Mile.
“That, I don’t have a problem with,” Peter said with a grin. “I kind of like the mile.”
The Shared Belief Stakes for 3-year-olds, run over 1 mile on the main track, turned into an emotional win for Jerry Hollendorfer’s barn when Prat guided Battle of Midway ($8.40) to a dominating win of 6¼ lengths over Gato Del Oro.
The trainer had not won the race named for the late Eclipse-winning horse who he led to eight wins. And Hollendorfer wasn’t on hand for this one because he traveled to Saratoga for the Grade I Personal Ensign.
That did not go well. Hollendorfer’s favorite, Songbird, was upset by Forever Unbridled.
“It was a tough day. This one saved it for us,” said Hollendorfer’s assistant, Dan Ward.
Battle of Midway won his fourth race and first with blinkers.
“The blinker had to help. He seemed much more focused,” said Prat, who leads all riders in the meet with six stakes wins.
Trainer Bill Spawr has been fined $3,000 and suspended 30 days because a filly he raced on May 7 at Santa Anita, Skye Diamonds, was found to have an excess of the drug Clenbuterol in her system. Clenbuterol is used for humans as a decongestant and bronchodilator. Spawr, whose suspension was reduced from 60 days, will be out from Aug. 28 through Sept. 26.
Prat, who’s leading the meet with 27 wins, will begin serving a three-day suspension on Sunday. He was deemed his mount, Vyjack, collided with Om last Sunday in the Del Mar Mile. Vyjack finished second and Om third, and there was no disqualification because the stewards ruled that the incident did not alter the original order of finish.
Trainer Bob Baffert said TVG Pacific Classic winner Collected has resumed training with gallops, while runner-up Arrogate has not been back on the track following his second straight loss at Del Mar.
“I don’t have any plans,” Baffert told a track official of Arrogate. “I need to get some weight back on him. He’s lost a lot of weight.