ARCADIA, Calif. (Nov. 20, 2018)–His place amongst racing’s all-time greats well assured, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, 55, announced his retirement from the saddle earlier today in an interview with Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman.
Although the Caldwell, Idaho native has retired and come back to riding multiple times, he told Privman, that due to results from a recent MRI on his spinal column, “There won’t be any comeback from this one. I had an MRI on Monday and the C-4 (vertebrae) is up against the spinal cord.”
A winner of a record nine Grade I Santa Anita Derbies, Stevens was a four-time leading rider at Santa Anita’s prestigious Winter/Spring Meeting and will forever be remembered as a fierce competitor who was at his very best on racing’s biggest stages, further evidenced by his three Kentucky Derby wins and 11 Breeders’ Cup triumphs.
America’s Eclipse Award winning jockey in 1998, he was voted into racing’s Hall of Fame the previous year, 1997.
Plagued with knee injuries for a good part of his career, Stevens made his final comeback following a seven-year hiatus at Santa Anita on Jan. 3, 2013 and put an exclamation point on his return by winning the Grade I Preakness Stakes on May 18 aboard the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow.
Once again beset with knee issues, Stevens underwent knee replacement surgery in August, 2014 and defied medical experts by becoming the first jockey to ever ride with an artificial knee just three months later.
Stevens further solidified his standing as racing’s “bionic man” by undergoing hip replacement surgery in December, 2016, after which he returned to the saddle yet again in March, 2017.
With trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ brilliant filly Winning Colors providing Stevens with his first Santa Anita Derby winner in April, 1988, Stevens officially joined racing’s elite as he guided the gray daughter of Caro to victory one month later in the Kentucky Derby, which Stevens would go to win again in 1995 with the Lukas-trained Thunder Gulch, and a third time in 1997 with Bob Baffert’s Silver Charm.
Following his win aboard Winning Colors in 1988, Stevens choreographed an unparalleled reign of dominance in Santa Anita’s signature race for 3-year-olds in the 1990s, as he would go on to win six Santa Anita Derbies from 1990 (Mister Frisky) through 1999 (General Challenge). While all of these wins showcased Stevens as the all-time great that he had become, none was more thrilling than his nose victory in 1995 aboard the Craig Lewis-trained Larry the Legend.
Stevens, who at the time had been riding full-time in Hong Kong, returned to Santa Anita to ride the Illinois-bred “Larry” and was able to hold off Afternoon Deelites and Kent Desormeaux by a head.
High among Stevens’ lifetime achievements is his win aboard the Kathy Ritvo-conditioned Mucho Macho Man in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, but perhaps his most dramatic Breeders’ Cup triumph came in the 2016 Distaff at Santa Anita when he bested the previously unbeaten Songbird and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith by a scant nose while aboard Richard Mandella’s multiple Eclipse Award Champion Beholder in one of the most thrilling finishes in Breeders’ Cup history.
Although a household word in the annals of American Racing, Stevens gained worldwide notoriety for his portrayal of the legendary late Hall of Fame jockey George Woolf, in 2003’s blockbuster hit movie, “Seabiscuit.” Aggressively recruited for the Woolf role by director Gary Ross, Stevens, who coincidentally was voted by his peers the winner of Santa Anita’s prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1996, earned high praise for his performance, which was filmed almost entirely at The Great Race Place.
In addition to his successful big screen debut, Stevens was roundly regarded as America’s best horse racing analyst when employed by NBC Sports, TVG and HRTV during various stints while inactive following his work on Seabiscuit.
A winner of four Grade I Santa Anita Handicaps, Stevens’ first Big ‘Cap tally came in gate to wire fashion aboard the Charlie Whittingham-trained Ruhlmann in 1990.
Stevens’ first career Thoroughbred win came on April 21, 1979 when he guided Lil Star, trained by his father Ron Stevens, to victory at Le Bois Park in Boise, Idaho.
Stevens retires with 5,187 North American wins from 29,442 mounts. His mounts earned $258,213,868, ranking him ninth on racing’s all-time money-won list. (These numbers do not include foreign wins and mounts).