Stevens ‘Feels Like A Kid Again,’ Hard At Work At Oaklawn

Gary Stevens stressed Monday morning that it’s not a working vacation.

Stevens had just breezed Cool Alley, an unstarted 3-year-old filly for trainer Mike Johnson, when he outlined his previous day at Oaklawn, where the Hall of Fame jockey is wintering for the first time after previously being based in Southern California.

Clearly, Stevens, 54, is still a working man.

“Worked more horses yesterday morning than I think I have in the last 20 years, in the morning,” Stevens said.

Stevens said he breezed seven horses Sunday, including Streamline, among the favorites for Saturday’s $125,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares.

The jockey’s last stakes victory in Hot Springs came aboard Concept Win in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap in 1996.  Stevens’ first at Oaklawn came in 1985, when he guided Tank’s Prospect to victory in the G1 Arkansas Derby for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

In between, Stevens won the Kentucky Derby twice (1988 and 1995), three Breeders’ Cup races and countless other Grade 1 events, fueling his induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1997.

Two decades later, Stevens, wife Angie and their precocious 8-year-old daughter Maddie have traded the warmth of Southern California for the arctic chill of Arkansas. He said his family left New Year’s Day and drove to Tucson, Ariz., spent the next night in Fort Worth and rolled into Hot Springs just before noon Jan. 3.

The obvious question: Why would a riding great, synonymous with Santa Anita, Del Mar and the now-defunct Hollywood Park, move his family approximately 1,600 miles less than two months before his 55th birthday?

“Like I’ve told multiple people in interviews, some pretty basic things – quality horses, quality horsemen, quality money, quality management and quality living,” Stevens said. “Pretty simple math.”

Stevens has had 87 career mounts at Oaklawn, stretching from his first in 1985 to three last year, but said his wife and daughter had never been to Hot Springs.

Angie is a talent manager. Maddie, a model/actress, is homeschooled, the jockey said.

“They didn’t know what to expect,” Gary Stevens said. “They are in heaven right now. They didn’t know what they were getting into. They didn’t know where I was taking them – put it that way – and they’re pretty happy.”

Stevens, who is represented by agent Jay Fedor, is named on 15 horses the first three days. He will be riding for celebrated names like Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill and Lukas, a longtime supporter. They teamed to win the Kentucky Derby in 1988 with the filly Winning Colors and the 2013 Preakness with Oxbow.

In the ultra-tough Southern California jockey colony, Stevens had only 264 mounts overall in 2017, but said he will not be choosy during the Oaklawn meeting that begins Friday.

“Whatever my agent puts me on,” Stevens said. “He’s got the pen, and I’ve got the reins. He’s got a green light. He’s a good agent.”

Physically, Stevens said he feels better than he did before knee problems triggered a lengthy retirement (2006-2012) from the saddle. Stevens had knee replacement surgery in 2014 and hip replacement surgery in 2016.

“Knees are good, hip’s good,” Stevens said. “Feel like a kid again.”

Stevens starts 2018 – he began riding professionally in 1979 – with 5,125 victories and $253,464,419 in purse earnings in his career, the latter ranking ninth in North American history, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

Stevens won an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding jockey in 1998, has 11 Breeders’ Cup victories and nine in Triple Crown events. His numerous A-list mounts include Eclipse Award winners Beholder, Silver Charm, Point Given and Serena’s Song.

There’s room for more A-listers, too, Stevens said.

“I haven’t felt this way in a long time,” Stevens said. “I feel pretty motivated right now and just excited to get started. I feel the pressure because big things are expected, and I’m going to get the opportunity to ride for some top outfits and some very good horses. It’s up to me to perform now.”

Stevens has 20 victories at Oaklawn, including six stakes.

The post Stevens ‘Feels Like A Kid Again,’ Hard At Work At Oaklawn appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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