02/13/2015 11:09PM

Stevens gets win No. 5,000 in North America

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Gary Stevens and Catch a Flight (right) win the fourth race at Santa Anita on Friday, giving the jockey his 5,000th win in North America.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Gary Stevens rode his 5,000th winner in North America in Friday’s fourth race at Santa Anita aboard Catch a Flight, a 5-year-old who may be on his way to important stakes in the coming weeks.

Catch a Flight ($3.60) won an optional claimer at 1 1/8 miles on dirt in 1:49.09, holding off a late rally from 8-1 Sammy Mandeville.  Stevens, who has won at least 139 races in six countries outside of North America, downplayed the milestone to an extent.

“The last two weeks have been tough,” he said, recalling a period with a few close losses. “I wasn’t thinking of the number. It’s just another number at the end of the day. I can get back to business.”

At the same time, Stevens recalled telling friends at a Thursday evening dinner party that he had a good feeling about Catch a Flight, his only mount on Friday’s eight-race program.

“I said, ‘You better be there by 2:30,” Stevens said. “I felt good about him today.”

Stevens, who turns 52 on March 6, won his first race in his native Idaho in 1979. He has been a fixture in Southern California since the early 1980s but has been plagued by knee issues in the last 15 years that have led to temporary retirements. Stevens resumed riding in early 2013 and won the Preakness Stakes that year.

Earlier in his career, he won the Kentucky Derby three times on Winning Colors in 1988, Thunder Gulch in 1995, and Silver Charm in 1997. He won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2013 on Mucho Macho Man.

Stevens has ridden in nearly all of the major racing countries in the world. He has won 55 races in France, 50 in Britain, 20 in Hong Kong, 10 in Dubai, three in Japan and one in Ireland, giving him far more than 5,000 career wins. Stevens won the Dubai World Cup in 1998 on Silver Charm.

Friday’s optional claimer was the second start and the first win in the United States for Catch a Flight, who was third in a Group 1 race on turf in Brazil last year. Trained by Richard Mandella for Haras Santa Maria de Araras, Catch a Flight will be considered for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.

While Sammy Mandeville reduced the margin in the final furlong, Stevens said Catch a Flight was in control.

“I’m not sure this is far enough for him,” Stevens said of Catch a Flight. “Hopefully, he’s got a big future.”