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Even Stevens Feels He Has Charmed Life

Jockey: Recent Hall of Fame inductee picked up mount on Silver Charm when McCarron got off for Santa Anita Derby.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — This was the ultimate parlay: Gary Stevens was elected into the Racing Hall of Fame one day, and three days later he rode his third Kentucky Derby winner.

Stevens said the first Derby victory, with Winning Colors nine years ago, only fueled him to wanting more. "The rush you get when you cross the finish line is just incredible," he said.

The 34-year-old rider did get more, winning at Churchill Downs with Thunder Gulch in 1995 and then completing the hat trick Saturday with Silver Charm. Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack share the Kentucky Derby record with five victories apiece.

Stevens rode Silver Charm for the first in the Santa Anita Derby, a month ago. Chris McCarron, who had been riding Silver Charm, rode Hello to a third-place finish in a race in which Free House and Silver Charm finished 1-2. Had McCarron stuck with Silver Charm at Santa Anita, Stevens said he was in line to ride Hello. McCarron missed the Kentucky Derby completely because of a shoulder injury and was a member of the ABC crew that telecast Saturday's race.

"That was fate, the way it all worked out," Stevens said. "It's been a great week. The Hall of Fame fulfilled my dreams, and then the Derby--well, it's more than any person could ask for. I'm very humbled and I'm very lucky."

Silver Charm and Stevens had battled a filly, Sharp Cat, through the fastest mile in Santa Anita Derby history, yet still finished strong for second.

"I learned a lot about this colt in the Santa Anita Derby," Stevens said. "I felt like we lost the battle in that race, but we came back and won the war. This colt was dead fit for this race."

Stevens won another Triple Crown race--the Belmont Stakes with Thunder Gulch in 1995--but he's winless with eight mounts in the Preakness, finishing third five times.

"When we were just behind the leaders, I felt that we could take Pulpit and Free House whenever we wanted," he said. "It felt like we could have gone around again and nobody was going to get by him. The feeling I had galloping back to the winner's circle was just incredible."

John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery, who race Free House, and their trainer, Paco Gonzalez, have an unusual Triple Crown record. They've had the same finish in all of their races, with Mane Minister running third in the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont in 1991 and Free House finishing behind Silver Charm and Captain Bodgit on Saturday.

David Flores, riding in his first Derby, angled Free House over after breaking from the outside post position and made the lead for the opening quarter of a mile. Flores said that no one wanted to take the lead. "The last thing I was expecting was to be on the lead," Gonzalez said. "I told David to get into position, but he was running easy."

Pulpit took the lead on the first turn, then Free House moved ahead of him at the quarter pole.

"When this horse gets the lead, he stops," Gonzalez said. "As soon as he takes the lead, he thinks he's home."

Horse Racing Notes

Before the Derby, Always A Classic, at 3-1, defeated favored Labeeb by 1 1/4 lengths in the $234,400 Early Times Turf Classic. Always A Classic, ridden by Jerry Bailey, ran 1 1/8 miles on a course labeled good in 1:49 1/5. . . . Other winners on Derby day were Capote Belle in the Humana Distaff, B.A. Valentine in the Providian Mile and Diligence in the Churchill Downs Stakes.

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