After a seven-year hiatus, retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, 49, and a winner of three Kentucky Derbies, announced Thursday on HRTV that he is returning to the saddle.
Stevens is named to ride on Sunday in Santa Anita’s 6th race.
“My knees probably didn’t feel this good the last five years that I rode,” said Stevens in making the announcement. “I’ve been getting on horses for the past eight weeks and there’s been a lot of speculation about me coming back. I’ve worked some exciting horses over the past couple of weeks. A couple in particular that kinda made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and I said ‘Man, I missed this,’ just the feeling of that straight power and speed underneath you.
“I spent the last couple of months…I was up in the great Northwest, up in Seattle going through kind of a boot camp type program just getting healthy and fit and getting on some horses and I said ‘You know what, I haven’t felt like this since probably 10 years before I retired.’”
Entries were taken Thursday morning for Sunday’s races and Stevens is named to ride Jebrica, a 4-year-old gelding in the 6th race. Jebrica is trained by veteran conditioner Jim Penney, for whom Stevens rode early in his career at the now-shuttered Longacres Racetrack in Renton, Washington.
“He’s a horse that’s been training well and (this) gives me a chance to stretch my legs and get my timing back a little bit,” said Stevens. “I haven’t been this comfortable working horses in the mornings. Sometimes the morning work was harder on me than the afternoon. You’re doing different things, you’re on young horses that are jumping sideways, doing this or that, that would tweak your knee. I was able to get on yearlings that are now 2-year-olds up in Seattle and it’s done me a lot of good.”
Born March 6, 1963 in Caldwell, Idaho, Stevens was known as a fierce competitor who relished the pressure of big race-day situations. He said that following his ride on Sunday, he would return to the HRTV set and that for the time being, he would remain as an analyst with both HRTV and NBC.
“Life is short,” said Stevens. “Someone said on Twitter the other day, ‘Is Stevens in a mid-life crisis?’ And I said, ‘Man, I hope it’s mid-life, that means I got another 50 years left in me.’”
Although he rode in a race for retired Hall of Fame jockeys at Santa Anita on Oct. 18, 2008, Stevens officially retired in 2005, following a widely acclaimed role in the 2003 blockbuster hit movie “Seabiscuit,” in which he played the legendary jockey George Woolf.
In addition to his three Kentucky Derby wins (Winning Colors, 1988, Thunder Gulch, 1995 & Silver Charm, 1997), Stevens has eight Breeders’ Cup wins, two Preakness victories, three Belmonts, a record nine Santa Anita Derbies and four wins in the Santa Anita Handicap.
Stevens has a total of 4,888 wins from 27,595 mounts. When asked by HRTV anchor Kurt Hoover who his agent was going to be, Stevens responded, “Gary Stevens, for now. I’ll have an announcement on that later.”
Gary Stevens/Benoit photo