02/20/2003 1:00AM

This time 'Deputy' will be favored


PHOENIX - Deputy Doc tried the big time in December. Following three easy wins, he took on Siberland in the Arizona Juvenile. He finished third.

But Deputy Doc bounced back to win the John Baker Memorial, and he enters Saturday's $35,000 Palo Verde Handicap at Turf Paradise - where he will face some of the same horses he beat in the Baker - as the heavy favorite. The Palo Verde, at 6 1/2 furlongs, attracted a field of six, with Deputy Doc the 124-pound highweight.

In the Jan. 27 Baker, Deputy Doc broke slowly from the rail but still had the lead after a quarter-mile. Trained by Paul Treasure and ridden by Miguel Hernan-

dez, Deputy Doc won by two lengths over Aye Chihuahua and Icy Tobin, both of whom return in the Palo Verde.

Aye Chihuahua, trained by Eric Kruljac, has blossomed since coming here from Southern California. He won in a good allowance field Dec. 31 before chasing Deputy Doc in the Baker. Aye Chihuahua has worked strongly twice this month in preparation for this race. He will be ridden by Hoogie Drexler.

A new shooter, Unyielding, comes off two strong allowance wins since shipping in from Emerald Downs.

Stevens back a winner

Scott Stevens, a perennial fixture near the top of the riding colony here, returned to the saddle last week after being sidelined four months because of injuries from a spill. He guided his first return mount, Basically Radical, to victory.

Stevens has had a brutal time of it the past 14 months. The six-time leading rider here, he suffered a broken pelvis, collarbone, heel, and ribs in a spill here Dec. 22, 2001, and was out nearly five months.

Not long after his return, at Yavapai Downs on Memorial Day weekend, he went down again, breaking two ribs. He was out a month. Then, Sept. 29 of last year, the opening weekend of Turf Paradise's current meet, Stevens was hurt when his mount flipped in the gate. He broke two bones in a leg and been out ever since. While recovering, he reconsidered his decision to return.

"You not only heal up in the down time, you think about things," said Stevens, who started riding in 1976. "Though I've had accidents and heaven knows how many broken bones, I still missed riding. So, that's why I came back."

* The three riders injured in a spill here Monday - Seth Martinez, Wilson Dieguez and O. A. Martinez - all returned to riding Wednesday. Seth Martinez and Dieguez spent a night in the hospital for observation after the spill. O. A. Martinez suffered a broken nose, but returned to the jockeys' quarters.

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