ARCADIA, Calif. — Gary Stevens is heading to Oaklawn Park next week, but before he got out of town he reminded everyone on Tuesday’s opening-day card at Santa Anita that he’s ready to come back here for major races over the next few months.
Stevens, aboard Giant Expectations in the Grade 2, $300,000 San Antonio Stakes for older horses, took advantage of unexpectedly being left alone on the lead, and parlayed that into a front-running, upset victory in the first of four stakes run on opening day.
Giant Expectations ($29), the longest shot in the field, found himself on the lead and setting soft fractions when Collected, the odds-on favorite in his first start since finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, was curiously taken back to last heading into the backstretch under new rider Mike Smith. Giant Expectations was able to get away with an opening quarter in 24.69 seconds and half in 49.19 seconds, and when he threw a pair of sub-24-second quarters at his rivals over the next half-mile, he was gone.
Giant Expectations romped by 3 1/4 lengths in the 1 1/16-mile race, with Accelerate edging Collected by a neck for second. Hoppertunity was another half-length back in fourth, and Prime Attraction tired to finish last in the field of five. Top of the Game was scratched earlier in the day.
“I didn’t expect that at all,” Stevens said after Giant Expectations completed 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:43.07. “Half in 50, race was pretty much over. He’s got a brilliant turn of foot the last quarter-mile.”
Stevens announced weeks ago that he would spend this winter at Oaklawn Park. He said he and his family will drive there next week, “but I’ll be coming back for horses like him,” he said, referring to Giant Expectations. “That’s what airplanes are for.”
Giant Expectations, a 4-year-old colt by Frost Giant, had finished sixth of 10 in his prior start, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 3 at Del Mar. His biggest win prior to Tuesday was in the seven-furlong Pat O’Brien at Del Mar in August. His trainer, Peter Eurton, said Giant Expectations is “pretty special when he gets his trip.”
The win was the fourth in 13 starts for Giant Expectations, who has now earned $449,200 with his $180,000 winner’s share from the San Antonio. He is owned by Exline-Border Racing, Gatto Racing, and Garrett Zubok.
Collected was using the San Antonio as a prep for next month’s Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream. Smith, riding Collected for the first time now that Martin Garcia has relocated to New York, admitted “it was a bad ride.”
“It was my fault,” he said. “We should have been on the lead.”