Gary Stevens adds 'trainer' to his resume

Oct 6, 2009 5:07 PM
Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

Training not a stretch for HOF jockey

There are an infinite number of sarcastically negative expressions to describe horse trainers. One is, "he couldn’t train a tiger to eat meat." Another, evaluating a trainer’s stock, is, "The horse ain’t worth two dead flies." And so it goes.

Which makes one wonder, why would Gary Stevens add training to his glossy resume? Turns out, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree–his father, Ron, is a successful trainer--and, one thing leading to another, the accomplished Hall of Fame jockey is a man for all seasons.

Stevens, now 46, is a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby; rider of eight Triple Crown winners and eight Breeders’ Cup winners; has 28 victories in $1 million races; achieved unexpected acclaim in his film debut as an actor; is a respected network television analyst; and has been hailed by People Magazine as one of the sexiest men on the planet.

Yet, Gary Stevens has no intention of resting on his lofty laurels, and has turned his hand to one of the most exacting and unappreciated trades on the planet: horse training.

He realizes it’s sort of risky, like inviting Roman Polanski to a Sweet 16 sleep over, but Stevens is already committed. You might say he has been all his life, since he began grooming horses for his father at the tender age of eight. By 14, he was riding quarter horses in Idaho, and won his first race on his first mount, Little Star, when he was 16, on April 21, 1979, at Les Bois Park in Idaho. The horse was trained by his father.

After an all-star wrestling season during his junior year in high school at age 17, Stevens dropped out to become a full-time jockey. As an apprentice, he tackled the Southern California circuit in 1980, but after winning only four of 90 races, he moved to defunct Longacres in Washington state and set numerous records. He returned to ride in Southern California in 1984.

Fast forward to 2009.

"My folks had a horse, and that’s when I started thinking about training," said Stevens, a native of Caldwell, Idaho, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. "Later, my wife had a 2-year-old, then a friend of mine had a horse, then another friend, and before you know it, they asked me to give training a go.

"So, yeah, the competitive juices got to flowing, and I ran four horses at Del Mar. I’m up to eight horses now and I’ve got more on the way. Some of them look to be decent, and I’m taking it day by day, step by step, but I’m having a blast."

Riding a horse, compared to training one, is proverbial kid’s play, especially when measured by time consumed.

"There’s definitely a lot more hours and a lot more worry involved," Stevens said. "When you ride races, you get off (a horse) and you don’t see it until the next time you work it or the next time you ride it. Being the son of a trainer, I knew what was involved with that, and when I was riding, I always worked pretty close with the trainers and owners, whether it was a small outfit or a major one. I always liked to be part of the team.

"Training is 24/7, every day of the year. When I recently went back to the (Kentucky) sales and bought four "Training is 24/7, every day of the year. When I recently went back to the (Kentucky) sales and bought four yearlings, I flew my dad into town to look after my barn while I was gone, and I have a good crew. I like the way everything’s coming along."

If things don’t pan out, there’s always the possibility of another role for Stevens in a movie like "Seabiscuit," the blockbuster 2003 hit in which he made his acting debut as legendary jockey George (The Iceman) Woolf, generating rave reviews from critics. At the moment, however, no one is knocking his door down with offers, which is just as well. That allows him more time to focus on training, in addition to his standing gigs as analyst for HRTV and NBC.

"I have no plans to leave (those two jobs)," Stevens said with emphasis.

Smart guy. He’s not giving up his day job. As good a trainer as he might become, he’s fully aware of the pitfalls.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Here is the Breeders’ Cup lineup for this year: Friday, Nov. 6, scheduled post time 12:35 p.m., $500,000 Marathon, 1 3/4 miles; 1:08 p.m., $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, one mile; 1:45 p.m., $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint, seven furlongs; 2:23 p.m, $2 million Juvenile Fillies, 1 1/16 miles; 3:02 p.m., $2 million Filly & Mare Turf, 1 1/4 miles; 3:45 p.m., $2 million Ladies’ Classic, 1 1/8 miles. On Saturday, Nov. 7: 10:45 a.m., $1 million Juvenile Turf, one mile; 11:23 a.m., $1 million Turf Sprint, about 6½ furlongs; 12:10 p.m., $1 million Dirt Mile; 12:49 p.m., $2 million Juvenile, 1 1/16 miles; 1:28 p.m., $2 million Mile (turf); 2:12 p.m., $2 million Sprint, six furlongs; 2:57 p.m., $3 million Turf, 1 1/2 miles; and 3:45 p.m., $5 million Classic, 1 1/4 miles . . . Trainer Todd Pletcher said that promising maiden winner Raging Wit has been sold. The son of Distorted Humor’s new trainer is Bill Mott . . .The Phillies won their third straight National League East title, but this season, you could have made a fortune betting against Cole Hamels, and more recently, Cliff Lee.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden