In his first race since 2014, jockey Stewart Elliott couldn't have started worse, but finished up just fine.
Aboard first-time starter Speed Saver for trainer Peter Miller, the pair broke dead last and was as many as 13 3/4 lengths back early on, but rallied to finish third, 12 1/2 lengths behind runaway victor Mr. Opportunist in a $50,000 claiming race going 6 1/2 furlongs Jan. 28 at Santa Anita Park.
The revival race was just Elliott's second start at Santa Anita since he began his career in 1981.
"It felt good—just kinda like the same old thing," said the 50-year-old rider, known best for his Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) wins with Smarty Jones in 2004. "It's been a long time, but everything is the same."
Elliott was last in Southern California in 2014. A stint at Del Mar that year was derailed when he was kicked by a horse and broke his ribs. He moved his tack to Keeneland later in the year, then managed a deer farm in Kentucky before his return to racing Thursday afternoon.
"I always planned to come back to California," Elliott said. "I got started a little bit (at Del Mar), but didn't get much of a chance. We just got our feet wet for three weeks, so it was always in the back of our mind to come back."
Elliott has been working horses for Miller at San Luis Rey Training Center in San Diego County, which led to his first mount.
"He's been down to San Luis Rey a half-dozen times the past three weeks," Miller said. "He's breezed a bunch of horses and looks good on a horse. I've got him on one today and one tomorrow. I mean, he's a good rider. He won the Kentucky Derby."
With 4,650 wins on his résumé, including 28 graded stakes, Elliott hopes to add to that total soon in the Golden State.
“Hopefully we can get rolling a little bit," he said. "I’m just happy to be here.”