Jock Steve Hamilton, coming full circle, guides Wise Gal to Selima win
by Frank Vespe
A year ago jockey Steve “Cowboy” Hamilton was wandering the racing wilderness.
Retired for 10 years, he returned to riding during the 2016 Maryland State Fair meet at Timonium, but he didn’t return to winning until October 2. In between, the 43-year-old Oklahoma native endured a 56-race losing skein.
“I’ll tell you, it was a little rough getting going,” Hamilton said Saturday afternoon with a chuckle. “But 10 years is a long time to be away with anything.”
He had reason to smile Saturday afternoon. He’d just steered Wise Gal to a flashy four-length triumph in the $100,000 Selima Stakes at Laurel Park for two-year-old fillies. Running time for the six furlongs was a sharp 1:09.43.
With the win, Wise Gal stamped herself as among the top ranks of Maryland-based two-year-old fillies. Hamilton also rides Shimmering Aspen, the Rodney Jenkins trainee who is the best local three-year-old filly. She is pointed at the Grade 3 Charles Town Oaks on September 23.
“I’m looking forward to that,” Hamilton said. “She’s a nice filly.”
Hamilton won 164 races in 2004 and 137 more in 2005 before retiring in 2006. A decade later, he returned.
Now, another year on, he’s won more than 70 races this season and has purse earnings in excess of $2 million. What’s more, Hamilton has first call on two of the best young fillies in Maryland.
“Anybody in my shoes right now would say it’s a blessing to be here and in Maryland right now around the people that actually got me started,” he said.
After winning less than five percent of his 2016 starts, he’s winning nearly 14 percent of the time this year.
“it takes just a little bit to get your timing back and just everything coming together,” he explained. “Basically, just keep working hard and it’s going to come around.”
If you get the right horses, of course, and with Wise Gal, Hamilton certainly looks to have one of those. The Dove Houghton trainee won at first asking, her late rally earning her a half-length victory in a maiden special weight at Laurel in August.
Today, Wise Gal bided her time in seventh rounding the turn. Hamilton guided her five wide approaching the lane, swept up past the leaders, and drew off with aplomb to the easy victory. Madame X. rallied into second, and longshot Eighty Six Mets grabbed third. Favored Light Up the Town settled for firth.
Wise Gal paid $6.40 to win as the second choice in the field. The exacta was good for $34.80.
“She’s an awesome little filly,” Hamilton said. “What she lacks in size she sure brings it in heart. She just brings it and can’t ask anything more of the filly.”
Wise Gal, bred and owned by Eric Wirth, is out of the multiple stakes-winning Maryland-bred Not for Love mare Spirited Game. As it happens, Hamilton also rode Spirited Game, trained by Ron Cartwright, who made his way down to the post-race winner’s circle today, on a couple of occasions.
“That’s really awesome getting to ride the offspring of a horse you rode in the past,” Hamilton said.
So Hamilton’s career has come around full circle. He’s sitting on the offspring of horses he once rode, riding for trainers who worked for the trainers who rode him a decade ago. But one thing hasn’t changed: he’s still riding winners.
“I couldn’t ask for anything to be going better at this point,” he said.