Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens stole the $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes (gr. II) aboard outsider Great Hot Feb. 16 for his third consecutive stakes win at Santa Anita Park over the past two weekends (VIDEO) .
Sensing there would be a lack of speed among the five entrants in the 1 1/16-mile event for older fillies and mares, Stevens sent 9-1 shot Great Hot directly to the front from their rail post. It was a position she never relinquished as 11-10 favorite Book Review tried in vain to reach even terms in deep stretch.
The Brazilian-bred Great Hot, wearing blinkers for the first time for trainer A.C. Avila and owner Coudelaria Jessica, finished half a length in front of Book Review and was timed in 1:43.08 on a fast track. Five-year-old Great Hot snapped a 13-race losing streak dating back to her victory in the Lexus Raven Run Stakes (gr. II) in Oct. 2011 at Keeneland.
Stevens coaxed soft fractions of :23.94, :48.18, and 1:12 on Great Hot while opening a 1 1/2-length advantage over Lady of Fifty, who could not keep pace with the leader rounding the far turn.
"At the three-eighths pole I let her out a notch and it wasn't full tilt yet, but it was enough to get their attention," Stevens said. "When we turned into the stretch she had enough still to hold the other filly off.
"It was so sweet. I moved her out about three-wide, and she just shut it down and was listening to my commands all the way around. I was just being a passenger until the head of the stretch."
Book Review, who saved ground before angling out on the turn when Lady of Fifty began to back out, threatened through the drive under Rafael Bejarano but could not match the winner, who finished under light urging. It was 3 3/4 lengths back to Lady of Fifty and Joe Talamo, who edged Pasaena Stakes winner Snow Fall by half a length for the show spot. Private Affair trailed throughout in a field reduced to five by the scratch of Going for a Spin.
Stevens, who launched a comeback bid last month after an absence of seven years, won the Wishing Well Stakes aboard Purim's Dancer and the San Marco Stakes (gr. IIT) with Slim Shadey the previous weekend at Santa Anita. Stevens won the Santa Maria for the fifth time in his career. His first victory in the former grade I event came in 1988 with Mausie.
"It feels good," Stevens said. "I've had that feeling before. I guess that's why I came back, I had that feeling, and I wanted it again."
Great Hot's fifth lifetime win in 21 starts was worth $120,000 and boosted her career bankroll to $537,927. The dark bay or brown mare was bred by her owner. She is by Orientate out of the unraced That's Hot, by Seeking the Gold.
"Gary got the breaks," Avila said. "Nobody wins 5,000 races for no reason. I put the blinkers on to give her more focus. (Stevens) spoke to me yesterday (about strategy). I said, 'I'm going to do one thing. I'm going to give you a leg up and you are the boss.' How am I going to tell Gary Stevens how to ride?"
Great Hot, carrying 118 pounds, paid $20.80, $5.60, and $3.40 while keying a $46.40 exacta. Four-year-old Book Review, second in the La Canada Stakes (gr. II) in January for trainer Bob Baffert, returned $2.80 and $2.10 in her first start against mares. Lady of Fifty, the 123-pound high weight, paid $2.80 to show.
Avila said he would look at the $300,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles March 16 for her next race.
"She showed she can relax," Avila said. "She just galloped around there. It's like a dream come true."