Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens rode the first winner of his newly-launched comeback Jan. 12, getting the job done aboard Glen Hill Farm's Branding for trainer Tom Proctor in the first race of the day at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
"It feels great (to win again), especially for these connections," Stevens told HRTV's Christina Blacker. "We go a long ways back."
Stevens, who will turn 50 March 6, returned to the races Jan. 6 at Santa Anita after seven years out of the saddle, and rode another mount Jan. 11.
He notched North American career victory 4,889 and visited the winner's circle for the first time since 2005 aboard a 3-year-old Street Sense filly who was sent off at odds of 5-1 in her second start after running eighth first time out last June 28 at Betfair Hollywood Park. In that race, Branding broke slowly and was beaten 15 3/4 lengths by eventual dual grade I winner Executiveprivilege.
This time out, the veteran reinsman settled Branding back in fifth, about seven lengths behind a quick early pace in the $56,000 maiden special weight contest at seven furlongs. As 9-5 favorite Tizmetizyou and 14-1 shot Rhinestone Diva battled it out through fractions of :22.47 and :45.55, he gradually improved Branding's position approaching the turn. He found a path between horses and sent his mount to the lead about a sixteenth from the wire.
Branding widened her advantage with a big run along the rail, striking the finish 2 1/2 lengths ahead under a hand ride. She covered the distance in 1:23.94.
"My filly broke well and I was going to let her roll away from there," Stevens said. "She settled into a nice rhythm and they were getting with it the first quarter of a mile (up front). I thought they might come back to me. My filly was traveling real well around the turn. She didn't really accelerate coming into the stretch but they stopped pretty good. It was just a swell trip, the kind you draw up and it works out the way you want it to."
Branding returned $13.20. Bred in Kentucky by Royal Pegasus out of the Storm Cat mare Awesome, she was a $250,000 purchase at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Stevens is named on four mounts Jan. 13, including Tale of a Champion for trainer Kristin Mulhall in the San Gabriel Stakes (gr. IIT). He will ride maiden claimer Spirit of Lindy for trainer Mike Mitchell in the first, maiden Tiz the Truth for fellow Hall of Famer Bob Baffert in the fourth, and maiden Going Back to Cali for Paul Aguirre in the sixth.
In addition to his North American victories, Stevens has won 135 races in six foreign countries (England, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan and the United Arab Emirates), which brings his career win total to 5,024, according to Equibase.
For more on Stevens' comeback and career accomplishments, click here.