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Gary Stevens 04

Gary Stevens: partnered a total of 4,888 winners before retiring in 2005

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)  

Gary Stevens set for shock return to saddle

USA: Gary Stevens, who retired seven years ago, is set to make a shock return to race-riding at Santa Anita on Sunday.

Stevens, 49, has been riding trackwork for the last couple of months and is named to partner the four-year-old Jebrica in a $50,000 claimer on turf in Sunday's sixth race.

The Hall of Fame jockey, who rode as stable jockey to Sir Michael Stoute for a period in 1999 before joining Andre Fabre's stable for a spell, has partnered a total of 4,888 winners.

Among them are three Kentucky Derby victories and eight Breeders' Cup successes, while his European highlight was a Juddmonte International win on Royal Anthem for Henry Cecil in 1999.

Stevens, who last rode in November 2005, has been employed as an analyst for HRTV and NBC in recent years. He has also taken acting roles in the movie Seabiscuit, as jockey George Woolf, and the TV series Luck.

Stevens, whose career was ended by chronic knee problems, announced his intention to return to the saddle on Thursday. "My knees probably didn't feel this good the last five years that I rode," he said.

"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 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.'"

Stevens' comeback mount Jebrica is a gelding representing veteran trainer Jim Penney. "He's a horse that's been training well and gives me a chance to stretch my legs and get my timing back a little bit," said Stevens.

"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.'"

In addition to his three Kentucky Derby wins with Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995) and Silver Charm (1997), Stevens has won two Preakness Stakes and three Belmonts.

According to the Daily Racing Form, the former Richard Hannon-trained Strong Suit had a major role to play in encouraging Stevens' comeback.

The five-year-old is now based in California with Simon Callaghan "When he broke off, it was like Rock Hard Ten, Point Given, or Silver Charm," Stevens said.

"I had missed that feeling - the strength, the power, and the speed underneath you. "I said, ‘You're fit. You really should do this.'"

He has also lost weight in readiness for his return, dropping from 9st 6lb to 8st 7lb."I've gone through a life-altering experience in the last eight weeks," Stevens told the Form.

 

 
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