IT HAPPENED IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE

blinkers

by Jim Wells

Scott Stevens is well regarded for his calm, collected demeanor in the irons. It is a hallmark of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame rider’s style in the saddle, and it has served him well during his 40 years as a jockey, perhaps never more than during a race last week at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.

Stevens is Turf’s defending riding champion and through Sunday was leading the colony there once more, five wins in front of Jorge Martin Bourdieu and 13 ahead of Daniel Vergara, another Canterbury regular.

Stevens has 44 wins, including one that has already taken a unique and special spot in his racing legacy. Stevens was aboard a horse named Unstoppable Colby, a five-year-old gelding he rode to the winner’s circle last summer in Shakopee, only this time the trip required a bit of quick thinking and a heads-up reaction on his part.

A video of the incident became instantly popular on the internet. “When I checked there had been 54,000 hits,” Stevens said.

Stevens, 55, and Colby were headed into the far turn when the blinkers on the horse slipped out of place covering the horse’s left eye. Stevens knew instinctively that inaction on his part was not an option, and the veteran rider wasn’t about to concede the race. If the horse couldn’t see, the possible consequences were hideous to consider, so Stevens simply reached down with one hand while maintaining his position in the irons and pulled the blinkers and the brow band back over the horse’s ears.

At that point there was only one horse in front of Colby and Stevens. As they hit the wire there was none.

UNSTOPPABLE COLBY -  01-05-16 - R04 - TUP - 001

 

“He’s really a competitive old horse,” said Stevens, who had never before encountered this particular issue. “I’ve had a shadow roll come loose before,” he said. “But not this.”

Nonetheless, Stevens knew that his experience was not unique. He was watching races on TVG a few weeks ago and witnessed a similar incident at Tampa Bay Downs that occurred during the Inaugural Stakes there on Dec. 19. A three-year-old named Ishag, with Pedro Cotto in the irons, was cruising to victory in the stretch when the hood began flapping over is eyes. The horse stumbled but still managed to win, and that episode was on Stevens’ mind as Colby’s blinkers slipped.

“I was thinking about that immediately,” he said. “I knew I had to do something. I knew I had to get those blinkers off his eyes.”

Several horsemen applauded Stevens for his quick reaction. “I think a lot of other riders might have simply pulled the horse up,” said Canterbury Park Hall of Fame trainer Doug Oliver who keeps a stable at Turf Paradise.    So, too, did the horse’s exercise rider Mark Flanders. “That horse isn’t really wild, but he does like to play,” said Flanders. “It took someone like Scott to pull that off. ”

*******************************
Colby, incidentally, is trained by two-time Canterbury training champ Robertino Diodoro, who has built a commanding if not insurmountable lead in pursuit of a third straight title in Phoenix. Diodoro has a 55-31-10 record as opposed to another Canterbury trainer, Dan McFarlane, who is 15-11-12. Diodoro has simply ambushed the competition. He has saddled 152 starters, compared with McFarlane’s 79.

Canterbury regular Jorge Carreno was tied with Vergara with 31 wins but will be sidelined for as long as the next 90 days after breaking vertebrae in his back.

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