Stevens enjoys greener pastures after leaving Cal

Oct 4, 2005 2:26 AM

Gary Stevens’ billowing biography fills more than six pages in Hollywood Park’s comprehensive media guide, but it doesn’t begin to tell the story of the latest riding legend to abort the glitz and glamour of California.

The 42-year-old Hall of Fame jockey, in a snit over the complex trend of racing in the Golden State, moved his tack to the East Coast after Santa Anita’s last winter meet, leaving the warm West Coast weather to ride lucrative races in the cool, cool clime of Kentucky and New York.

Stevens depleted the once-rich Southern California riding colony by one more world-class horseman, not to mention a dollop of decorum. He joined Hall of Famers Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Eddie Delahoussaye, each of whom called it career in the past three years, either electively or for their well-being after suffering riding injuries.

Stevens, back at Santa Anita last Saturday where he rode Breeders’ Cup Classic contender Rock Hard Ten to a workmanlike one-length victory over Roman Ruler in the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap, is firm in the conviction that he made the right move.

"I’m very happy with it," he said. With that, Stevens headed East for another three-month stint.

But, like Arnold, Stevens says cryptically, "I’ll be back."

"I’ll return for the winter meet (that starts Dec. 26), but I plan to continue on this schedule," Stevens said. "I’ve bought my home in Louisville but I’ll ride in California from January through the first of April. Then I’ll head back for the Keeneland meeting and do the same circuit I did this year."

Nearing 5,000 career wins and with earnings of more than $217 million in purses through an exemplary career of more than 25 years, Stevens currently is sound of body and spirit. The painfully arthritic knees that caused him to retire abruptly late in 1999 have not been an issue for some time. With a critically acclaimed acting debut in the 2003 hit film, "Seabiscuit" on his resume and blessed with matinee idol good looks, resigning from riding in order to pursue a fresh vocation is a viable option.

"You never know in this business," Stevens said when asked about the possibility of retirement. "I play it day by day. Right now I’m enjoying myself and my immediate goal is to get through Breeders’ Cup with a few winners. Then I’ll assess things after that."

Perhaps the game’s most perceptive and articulate interview, Stevens can on occasion prove testing with the print media, even if said questioner has all his I’s dotted and T’s crossed. Playing the intimidation game brings a twinkle to his eye and gives him a buzz.

He was on his best behavior in front of ESPN’s TV cameras, however, after guiding the enormous equine Rock Hard Ten to victory in the Goodwood. It was the colt’s first race since last March 5.

"You never know exactly how they’ll run until you get them back," Stevens said, beads of sweat permeating his handsome face. "He’s been training great, but you just never know. Everybody knows how much I believe in this horse, so I’ll let him do his speaking on the track."

Stevens and "Rocky," as the horse is known around trainer Richard Mandella’s barn, will take on the likes of favored Saint Liam and surprising Borrego, impressive winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Despite his poised victory in the Goodwood and the fact that he vanquished Saint Liam in the Santa Anita Handicap last March, Rock Hard Ten is likely to play second fiddle in the mutuel wagering on Breeders’ Cup day at Belmont Park on Oct. 29. Saint Liam is a "homie." Coupled with his easy win in the Woodward even though he beat bums, it should be enough to make him the betting favorite in the Classic.

Meanwhile, Stevens says he presently is not being inundated with scripts and treatments from Hollywood types, and he’s fine with that. "There’s always stuff out there," Stevens said about show biz gigs. "I wouldn’t say they’re after me but there are always opportunities and it’s just a matter if I want to pursue them or continue to do what I’m doing."

Right now, Stevens prefers horses to horse operas.

The homestretch

Trainer Ron Ellis on the status of Declan’s Moon, male 2-year-old champion of 2004 who will be sidelined with an injury until 2006: "He took a little longer to warm up and he never had any trouble doing that so that concerned me. We ran a nuclear scan and the top of his (left) cannon bone lit up. It was the same leg (that had an earlier injury to his knee) but in a totally different area.

"The X-ray shows no fracture or ligament damage. We were worried that the suspensory was trying to pull away from the bone but it’s not. I think he damaged the cannon bone when he hurt his knee but it never showed. That bone takes a lot longer to heal, so I think he needed three or four months off and he only had two. He’s probably going to need another two months before starting back. But there aren’t any fractures and no suspensories to worry about."

”¡ Since the Daily Racing Form ratings 1-2 picks Woke Up Dreamin and Pomeroy were up the track with no excuse in the Vosburgh and unbeaten Lost In The Fog (grudgingly ranked third) romped to his 10th straight win in a trumped up stakes at Bay Meadows, will the ratings at long last move Fog to the top where he belongs?

”¡ While 55-year-old Richard Mandella understandably was happy with Rock Hard Ten’s Goodwood win, "it was pretty exciting for me" when his son, Gary, on the same day 3,000 miles away won the first Grade I race of his career. The 32-year-old Gary saddled 26-1 outsider Taste of Paradise for a two-length upset in the Vosburgh.

”¡ Trainer Craig Lewis had a one-word answer when asked why he scratched Valentine Dancer from the $100,000 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap to run in the $250,000 Lady’s Secret Breeders’ Cup Handicap: "Money."