Gary Stevens

Top Kentucky Derby Jockeys – Gary Stevens

Un-retirements are common in American sports for Hall of Fame-caliber athletes. However, those second (or third) careers usually don’t end as well as the first. Think Michael Jordan as a Washington Wizard. However, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens proved in 2013 that he was as good as ever following seven years away from the sport. And Stevens has one of the top Kentucky Derby contenders for the 2014 Run for the Roses in Candy Boy. Stevens has won America’s biggest horse race three times already.

Stevens was born March 6, 1963, in Caldwell, Idaho, into a family deeply involved in horse racing. Stevens’ father Ron had Gary grooming horses at age 8, and before he was 14 Stevens was riding winners in quarter horse races in local fairs at bush tracks. Stevens’ first thoroughbred-winning ride was on Lil Star in his first start at age 16 in 1979 at Les Bois Park in Idaho. Starting in 1986, Stevens was the dominant jockey at the major tracks in southern California, winning multiple titles at Santa Anita, Hollywood, Del Mar and Oak Tree.

The first win at the Kentucky Derby for Stevens was an unlikely one, coming on filly Winning Colors in 1988. She remains the last filly to win the Run for the Roses and only the third in history to do so. It was no fluke as Winning Colors led wire to wire and Stevens still calls it his most exciting win. She would finish third in the Preakness and sixth in the Belmont.

In 1995, Stevens won the Derby again, this time aboard Thunder Gulch. This was a bit of a surprise for those betting on the Kentucky Derby as Thunder Gulch went off at 25-1 odds. Stevens rode Thunder Gulch to a third-place finish in the Preakness and his first Belmont Stakes win. Cigar, not Thunder Gulch, was named Horse of the Year.

One of the closest Triple Crown misses in history came in 1997 with Stevens on Silver Charm. The horse won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, both by a head, and was the heavy betting favorite at the Belmont Stakes. There, Chris McCarron pushed Touch Gold to the front in the closing yards to beat Silver Charm by three-quarters of a length. “If anyone ever had any doubt about how hard it is to win the Triple Crown… ” Stevens said afterward. On the bright side, Stevens was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in ’97.

In 1998 Stevens helped foil a Triple Crown. Real Quiet had won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and was leading by five lengths in the stretch of the Belmont Stakes. Stevens and Victory Gallop caught Real Quiet by a nose to win in one of the most dramatic Belmont Stakes races ever. Stevens won the Eclipse Award that year as North America’s outstanding jockey.

Stevens retired in 1999 due to chronic knee pain but returned in 2000. He retired again in 2005 and was a prominent TV announcer for the sport and played the role of George Woolf in the movie Seabiscuit. Stevens got the bug to return to racing in 2013 and he did in a big way. Stevens rode Oxbow to a win in the Preakness and a second place finish in the Belmont Stakes after a sixth in Kentucky Derby betting. Stevens also won his first Breeders’ Cup Classic on Mucho Macho Man.

For those who bet on the Kentucky Derby, Candy Boy is a strong contender. He got his 3-year-old season off to a good start in February with a victory in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. It was Candy Boy’s first stakes victory after finishing second to Shared Belief in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity to close 2013. Candy Boy received a career-best 97 BRIS speed figure in the Lewis and has improved his numbers in each of six starts.