Stevens set for return

Gary Stevens insists the abiding conviction that he could still compete among some much younger peers in the paddock is what swung his decision to come out of retirement.

By Alex Leach

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Published: Sun 31 Mar 2013, 12:53 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 12:41 PM

The American Hall of Famer, 50, rode Soul of the Matter to second place behind Cigar in the inaugural Dubai World Cup race back in 1996 and duly won the event two years later aboard Silver Charm.

He also claimed a hat-trick of Kentucky Derby victories (1988, 1995 and 1997) during his illustrious career prior to calling it quits with nagging knee trouble in 2005.

However, Stevens still yearned to channel his competitive spirit during that seven-year break and he duly returned to horse racing with the inherent belief that he could remain a force to be reckoned with.

“People have asked me why did you come back at the age of 50 and what possessed you to do this?” explained Stevens, who will ride Little Mike in the Dubai Duty Free and Dullahan in the big race on Saturday night.

“I simply look at them and say ‘Because I could’ and that’s the bottom line of it.“I knew that I was going to be under the microscope. There were going to be a lot of cynics and critics and it was my job to prove to those people otherwise.

“I didn’t want to come back and be just a shadow of what Gary Stevens once was. I knew that I had to be what I was, if not better.

“I just knew when I came back that I had to be at a certain level and didn’t want to embarrass the reputation that I had in the past.

“I didn’t to be a past memory, whereby someone says: ‘Man, why did he do this? He’s embarrassing himself.’ I didn’t want to embarrass what I, the horses and the people that have supported me had created in the past.”

Such a brave and determined decision does nonetheless come with its dangers and downsides, with — prospectively — family distress and further injuries among the tough consequences of it.

“Two things entered my mind and delayed this (comeback) more than anything and they are my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Madison and my mother (Barbara), who is 74,” Stevens added.

“My mother cannot watch a race on television and she won’t watch me. She listens and my dad (Ron) watches and gives her commentary about what’s going on.

“I knew it was going to be difficult on her and on my wife (Angie) as well. My wife was relieved when I retired, but she also knows that there was something lacking in my life. She’s on board 100 per cent or I wouldn’t be back right now.

“If you’re a jockey, it’s not a question of if you’re going to fall, but when and how bad is it going to be? I know it’s going to happen. I’ve known that since the first day that I took out my jockey’s licence when I was 16 years old.

“I knew there were going to be injuries and that I was going to have to play hurt sometimes. That’s going to happen again. To me, the risk is worth the reward that I get riding day in and day out.”

Two American trainers’ thoughts on Gary Stevens’ comeback

Dullahan and Little Mike trainer Dale Romans: “I don’t suppose Gary thought – when he announced he was coming back to racing a few months ago – that he’d be riding on the biggest stage in the world this quickly. But, if you watch what he’s done in California, he came back as good as when he went out or better, so we’re glad to have him.

“He’s come back better than ever. I know when he went into retirement, his knee was bothering him, he wasn’t physically perfect and – right now – he suddenly feels better than ever and it looks like it in his riding. He doesn’t look 50 years old when he’s on the back of a horse.

“If you look at his credentials, he’s one of the greatest of all time, so you know he’s not going to crack under the pressure of a big race and – if something unforeseen comes up in the race – he’ll be able to handle it. I don’t think we could have got a better rider for this day.”

Cigar and Royal Delta trainer William Mott: “It’s been pretty amazing to watch him come back, get back into the shape that he was in before and be able to ride the type of races that he needs to have done get to where he’s at now. Some people have that certain quality about them. He’s just a natural and one of those guys that can do it.”

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