Stewart Elliott, best known for riding Smarty Jones in the 2004 Triple Crown races, has been on the comeback trail in Southern California for about a year now. Despite limited starts, Elliott has done enough to turn heads and even land a few mounts for the area’s top trainer, Bob Baffert.
“It felt good—just kinda like the same old thing,” Elliott told Bloodhorse in January, after his first race since 2014. “It’s been a long time, but everything is the same.”
“He’s a really good horseman and gets along with horses really well,” Baffert said of Elliott when interviewed by Bloodhorse in October. “He’s very good at getting my young horses ready and he’s really good out of the gate, probably one of the best gate jockeys. Horses just fly out of there for him and that’s very important with young horses.”
Baffert continued, “[Elliott’s] consistent day in, day out. It doesn’t matter if he’s on a 1-2 favorite or a 10-1 shot, he’s just the same. He’s pretty calm and cool.”
This is the second career stint in Southern Cal for Elliott; his first (in 2014) began inauspiciously. He suffered broken ribs after being kicked by a horse and in the middle of the Del Mar summer meet and needed about two months to recuperate. He rode at Keeneland later in the year, then took over a year off to manage a deer farm in Kentucky before returning to the saddle in 2016.
“I always planned to come back to California,” Elliott told Bloodhorse. “I got started a little bit (at Del Mar), but didn’t get much of a chance.”
Elliott’s dedication to his craft caught the eye of preeminent Southern Cal trainer Peter Miller.
“He’s been down to San Luis Rey (training center) a half-dozen times the past three weeks,” Miller told Bloodhorse in January. “He’s breezed a bunch of horses and looks good on a horse. I mean, he’s a good rider. He won the Kentucky Derby.”
The pinnacle of Elliott’s comeback so far was winning the Los Alamitos fall meet rider title, snagging 12 wins over the 12-day meet. That came on the heels of a 17-win performance (109 mounts) at the contentious Del Mar summer meet.
At the Santa Anita fall meet, Elliott captured his first graded stake since 2014 when he piloted trainer Phil D’Amato’s Gloryzapper to victory in the L.A. Woman. He kept the mount on Gloryzapper in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, one of his first mounts in the series in years, but the duo finished off the board.
Elliott is still seeking redemption in the Triple Crown series. He has yet to place in a Triple Crown race since he and Smarty Jones were denied by Birdstone in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky Derby is still many months away, but we’ll see if the 51-year-old veteran can line up a mount in the “Run for the Roses.”
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