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Stevens a close third in comeback

Gary Stevens was willing Jebrica home, but Maybe Tuesday (left) spoiled the party (Benoit Photos)
In his first ride back from a seven-year spell in retirement, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens nearly pulled off a fairy-tale return, only to be run down late and wind up third in Santa Anita's 6TH race on Sunday.

Stevens, 49, had been working Jebrica for trainer Jim Penney in advance of his comeback, and he gave the 5-1 chance a lovely ground-saving trip in the turf affair for $40,000-$50,000 claimers.

Tucked just behind the leading Rock This Way through fractions of :22 4/5, :46 2/5 and 1:10, Jebrica was flanked on the outside by even-money favorite Jimmy Simms.

Turning for home, Jimmy Simms had clear aim on the leader, but didn't find as much as expected. By that point, Stevens had peeled off the fence, got the split, and drove Jebrica after Rock This Way, who was still a length up through seven furlongs in 1:22.

Jebrica forged to the front in deep stretch, creating a wave of excitement, but couldn't quite close the deal. In a frenetic finish, Maybe Tuesday and Deacon Speakin' collared him just before the wire, and Jebrica was beaten a grand total of a neck.

"I thought, 'Man, this is going to be a storybook comeback,'" Stevens said. "It wasn't meant to be, but it was close enough. That's the first time I've knuckled down on one in seven years, and it felt good.

"I rode long enough to know that turning into the backside, I was going to be loaded coming into the stretch. I was looking over at Julien (Leparoux on Jimmy Simms), and he was just to my outside and had some horse. I knew I was going to be able to float out coming into the lane. Tyler's horse (Baze on Rock This Way) floated out just a tad coming out off the turn. It was a perfect trip, and like I said, it felt really good."

Assistant trainer Bryson Cooper commented on what it meant to be involved in Stevens' return.

"It was exciting not just for us," Cooper said, "but also for Washington (Penney's home base) and the whole racing industry. We're really happy with the effort.

"If Gary could've finished on a horse, he might have won," Cooper added, laughing. "He ran very good. We're very pleased with him."

Maybe Tuesday, with Aaron Gryder aboard, stopped the teletimer in 1:34 for one mile on firm turf. The 5-1 winner was also claimed by the owner/trainer tandem of Anthony Doria and Dominic Fama for $40,000.

"I'm seven years fitter than he is," Gryder quipped. "It was a good setup. We turned for home, and I wasn't sure I was going to run down Gary and I said, 'What a story book this would be and what a script. It looked like it was almost written.'

"My horse is a game horse and just kept on trying," Gryder added. "He was just able to out-foot them the last sixteenth of a mile. Gary looked good and it was fun to have him back in the jocks' room."

The Hall of Famer was happy to get back in the game (Benoit Photos)
Winning trainer Mike Mitchell had spoken with Stevens prior to the race.

"I told Gary before the race in the paddock, I said, 'I know you, and I know how professional you are and that if you're feeling good, you'll ride and if you're not, I know you wouldn't do this. You gotta be feeling good.'

"He's a great rider and a smart rider," Mitchell added, "but I thought my horse would run good. It was a good horse race."

Deacon Speakin' crossed the wire a nose in front of Jebrica, who was 1 1/2 lengths clear of fourth-placer Arraignment. Rock This Way faded to fifth, trailed by Jimmy Simms and Teafatiller.

Stevens remarked on the skills needed for raceriding, compared to exercising horses or his role as an analyst on NBC and HRTV.

"You can prepare all you want -- like preparing a horse for a race in the morning," Stevens said. "There's nothing like a race itself. It feels good to get the cobwebs out, and I feel good. I'm proud of the people who have helped me get to this point, and I want to make them proud moving forward.

"You have to be on top of it and watching 12 horses. When you're out there like I just was just now, you're aware of every other horse in the race and what their form was, and I rode accordingly.

"I guess you put a bit more into it studying analytically for television. At the end of the day, when you're on their back, you know that you have to have an open mind and be able to adapt."

Stevens plans to ride on a selective basis during Santa Anita's winter/spring meeting, which runs through April 21. He will also keep his "day job," so to speak, as a racing analyst on television.

Amid all of Sunday's festivities, Stevens wasn't forgetting about his HRTV duties.

"I've got to go shower, and I've got to get into the booth -- I want to make the Monrovia," the Hall of Famer said.

The Grade 2 Monrovia was run as the 8TH race on the card, about an hour after Stevens' comeback.

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