AUBURN – The horse who launched the riding comeback of Washington riding legend Gary Stevens thrust himself into the spotlight leading up to the 2013 Longacres Mile.
Jebrica convinced Stevens that coming out of retirement earlier this year was justified with a couple of morning workouts in Southern California.
Now, the Washington-bred son of Liberty Gold is poised to propel trainer Jim Penney further into Mile history.
Under a well-timed finish under Isaias Enriquez, Jebrica rallied off a hot pace set by Makors Finale and Winning Machine for a three-quarter-length victory in Sunday’s $50,000 Budweiser Handicap at Emerald Downs.
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“I had a very good trip,” Enriquez said. “The speed went really fast and my horse relaxed well. By the three-sixteenths pole, I knew the race was mine.”
Stevens had been retired seven years until coming back on Jan. 6 aboard Jebrica at Santa Anita in Southern California, losing by just a neck while finishing third.
“(Stevens) told me, I’m thinking about coming back, and I’d like him to be my first horse back,” said Penney, 78, who has won a record five Miles. “It’s just like you getting in a new car. You know the way it handles to you, the way it does this and does that. You’re pleased with it.
“The next one, maybe you don’t like the way it corners. He was a Cadillac.”
Jebrica, a 5-year-old who paid $23.20 to win, put Penney in a familiar position with another solid Mile contender while lifting Enriquez to his first Emerald stakes win.
Jebrica zoomed past the leaders just outside the sixteenth pole and ran the mile in 1 minute, 34.72 seconds. After overtaking the early leaders, Jebrica fended off a closing kick from 19-1 longshot Stryker Phd, who returned $20.60 for place. Winning Machine held on for third after taking the lead at the top of the lane.
“He will be a contender (for the Mile),” Penney said of Jebrica. “He will run when it counts.”
The race was the second of three prep races for 3-year-olds and up leading to the $200,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 18.
With his three-win day, Enriquez moved within one of 2013 leading jockey Juan Gutierrez at 41-40.
Hoist, the 5-2 favorite under Aaron Gryder after winning the Governor’s Handicap on May 19, loomed third early but faded to sixth.
Nearly $23,000 was raised for Emerald Downs’ all-time leading jockeyGallyn Mitchell and his family on Saturday at a fundraiser. Mitchell, 50, suffered a heart attack on April 22.
Highlighting the evening auction was a $1,400 winning bid on the whip used by Stevens in winning this year’s Preakness Stakes aboard Oxbow.
“We are just so overwhelmed,” said a teary-eyed Mitchell. “Shoot, I didn’t know this many people loved me that much. You guys will see me again down [in the jockeys’ room]. I’ll be back.”