GREAT HOT, AT 9-1, ADDS BLINKERS, STEVENS AND STEALS GRADE II SANTA MARIA, BOOK REVIEW IS SECOND

ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 16, 2013)—In a manner eerily similar to so many other stakes wins covering parts of four decades, comebacking Gary Stevens sent longshot Great Hot to the early lead in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes for older fillies and mares and put on a textbook exhibition on how to ride a frontrunner, guiding the 5-year-old Brazilian-bred mare to a half length victory over even money favorite Book Review while covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.08.

Stevens, who first won the Santa Maria in 1988 with the Gary Jones-trained Mausie, won it again in 1996 with Serena’s Song for D. Wayne Lukas, and then won it two years in a row; in 2001 with Lovellon for Ron McAnally and in 2002 with Favorite Funtime for Baffert.

Breaking from the rail in a field of five, Stevens gunned Great Hot, who was fitted with blinkers for the first time by trainer A.C. Avila, to a length and a half lead going into the Club House turn. Leaving the backside and going to the far turn, eventual third-place finisher Lady of Fifty and Joe Talamo loomed menacingly, drawing within a length of the leader, but Stevens, as he’s done so many times before, opened up a length and a half and was never seriously challenged thereafter.

“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,” said Stevens. “When we turned into the stretch, she still had enough to hold the other filly (Book Review) off.”

Great Hot carved out fractions of 23.94, 48.19, 1:12.11 and 1:36.42.

“Gary got the breaks,” said Avila. “Nobody wins 5,000 races (actually 4,893) for no reason. I put the blinkers on to give her more focus. He (Stevens) spoke to me yesterday. I said ‘I’m going to do one thing. I’m going to give you a leg up and you are the boss.’…I left it up to Gary, because he knows how to read the Form. I said when the gates open and if somebody gets crazy, let them go. She’s got back class.”

Off as the fourth choice in the wagering, Great Hot paid $20.80, $5.60 and $3.40. With the winner’s share of $120,000, Great Hot, owned by her breeder, Coudelaria Jessica, hiked her bankroll to $537,927. Winless in her last 13 starts, Great Hot’s record now stands at 21-5-3-5.

Dating back to last Saturday’s Grade II San Marcos Stakes and Sunday’s Wishing Well, Stevens has now won three consecutive stakes at The Great Race Place.

Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Book Review, a winner of the Grade I La Brea Stakes going seven furlongs on Dec. 26, came off a second-place finish in the Grade II La Canada at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 20.

“The one horse (Great Hot) had the lead easy,” said Bejarano. “I decided to stay on the rail. If I had stayed too far out and got clear, I may not have had a chance to catch them…I was right behind the winner. By the three-eighths I let go and my horse moved well but the winner was very comfortable on the lead and that horse was running until the end.

“For a moment turning into the stretch I thought I had a lot of horse, and that she was going to show me a big kick but Great Hot never stopped until the end.

Book Review, trained by Bob Baffert, paid $2.80 and $2.10.

Lady of Fifty, the third choice in the betting at 3-1, prevailed by a half length over Snow Fall and Tyler Baze to be third, and paid $2.80 to show.

Avila indicated that he would point Great Hot to the Grade I, $300,000 Santa Margarita Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on March 16.

The Grade II, $150,000 San Vicente Stakes, for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs, will highlight a nine-race card at Santa Anita on Sunday. First post time is at 12:30 p.m.