On May 18, Oxbow sprang an upset in the Preakness Stakes, winning the second jewel of the Triple Crown at odds of 15-1. You could’ve gotten at least triple those odds six months ago if you’d have bet that the jockey aboard the Preakness winner would be Gary Stevens. But Stevens, a Hall of Famer who’d been retired for seven years before returning to racing in January, beat the odds and gained new perspective in the process.
The following journal is transcribed from a phone interview DanonymousRacing.com conducted with Stevens on May 30. The words below are those of Stevens’, lending insight into his humble early beginnings and the greatest accomplishment of his illustrious racing career.
I was raised the son of a trainer. My father Ron has trained horses since I was born. I also have an older brother, Scott, who is a jockey as well. He was my idol and I always wanted to do what he did. He’s a great jockey and he’s been a great coach and mentor for me.
I actually won my first race in Emmett, Idaho, on a quarter-horse named Sweet Dancing April. When I turned 16, a month later, I won my first thoroughbred race (on Lil Star) at Les Bois Park in Boise, Idaho, on April 16, 1979. It’s tough to separate one victory from the next but my greatest victory, up to this point and time, was two-weeks ago on Oxbow in the Preakness Stakes after coming back from a seven-year retirement and winning a classic at the age of 50.
I had so many thoughts during the Preakness. First off, I couldn’t believe we were getting away with such an easy lead early on in the race. I thought of Wayne (trainer, D. Wayne Lukas) up in the grandstand, looking at the clock going and seeing what we were doing – he had to have a smile on his face.
When I entered the stretch for the home drive, I thought of my parents and the home I was raised in, in Boise, Idaho. I thought of them sitting there with their two rottweilers and my dad saying, “that little son of a gun stole another one!” When I hit the finish line, the words out of my mouth were “are you kidding me?” You hope for the best going into any race and I’d gone into the race with quite a bit of confidence but to actually pull it off was jubilation that I’ve never experienced in any of my victories.
Throughout my career, I’ve been very competitive by nature in anything that I do. Going into the Preakness, I was 0 for my last 40. I don’t like getting beat and if I’m not good at something, then I generally tend to occupy my time with something that I am good at. I wasn’t really doubting myself but I was worried about some of the support I was getting (in Kentucky) in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
I wasn’t riding horses that were going to win races. It wasn’t anybody’s fault – just a shortage of live horses and a very competitive jockey colony at Churchill downs. After being off for seven years and that not being my home track, I was like the sixth man on the totem pole. I was disheartened. But my victory on Skyring in the Dixie Stakes before the Preakness really boosted my confidence and my morale.I was looking forward to getting on Oxbow and proving that we were both capable. That’s what Oxbow did. He went out and performed flawlessly.
It’s going to be a deep and full field of at least 13 horses, as of now, in the Belmont Stakes. I’ve got full confidence that Oxbow can get the mile and a half distance. It’s my feeling that if he repeats his race in the Preakness then we can get the job done. I do have a lot of respect for all of the horses that will be racing, I have a lot of respect for the mile and a half distance and I have a lot of respect for Belmont Park. It’s not going to be an easy task.
That said, I spoke with Wayne this morning, after Oxbow’s last major workout before the Belmont and Wayne is very excited about the way Oxbow has relaxed and the way he’s maturing right now. I’m quietly confident and excited.
I think I’ve learned to absorb and really enjoy the moment at the age of 50. That just comes with age and (the Preakness) was the sweetest win ever. Without the fans, we don’t have a sport. The following I’ve had since my career started has grown hugely. The coolest thing for me with this comeback at age 50 is to have people who are 50-years-old and older, who I don’t even know, come up to me and say, “hey, we’re rooting for you!” Even if they weren’t fans before, I think they’re fans now just because of what we are accomplishing. When I say we, I’m speaking for the seniors out there (with a chuckle). It’s a kick in the butt and I’m having a blast.
For more on Gary Stevens comeback, read “Rejuvenated Stevens Hopes Derby Win Completes Unlikely Comeback”. You can also follow Stevens on Twitter @HRTVGary!