Jockey Gary Stevens entered the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame a long time ago — 1997 — but the former Longacres riding champion delivered one of his biggest career triumphs Saturday when, at 50 and following seven years of retirement, he took the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow to a wire-to-wire victory in the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore.
Oxbow thwarted any chance Kentucky Derby winner Orb had of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, and vindicated himself for his performance in the Derby, in which he made a move for the lead in the final turn, but faded.
Oxbow covered the 1 3/16th miles in 1:57.54. He went off as a 15-1 underdog and paid $32.80, $12 and $8.80.
For Stevens, a Boise native who smashed Longacres riding records in 1983-84 before relocating to the more lucrative Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar venues, it was his third victory in the Preakness, his ninth in a Triple Crown race, and his first since the 2001 Belmont Stakes aboard Point Given. He is the oldest jockey to win the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
“It’s so special,” Stevens told The Associated Press. “Wayne, he supported me. Put me on my first Triple Crown winner (Winning Colors, 1988). A lot of people were trying to get me off. He was the first guy to call me up and said ‘I’m going to have a colt for you. His name is Oxbow.’”
Stevens added, “Wayne is like a brother, coach, a father figure to me.”
Stevens said he almost couldn’t believe how well it went.
“We came in here with a lot of confidence,” he said. “When I hit the half-mile pole, I told myself, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Is this happening?’”
Stevens won his first Triple Crown race, the Kentucky Derby, for Lukas aboard the filly Winning Colors in 1988. He then won the 1995 Derby and 1995 Belmont on Thunder Gulch, the 1997 Derby and Preakness aboard Silver Charm, the 1998 Belmont aboard Victory Gallop and 2001 Preakness aboard Point Given.
In addition to his nine Triple Crown wins, Stevens also won eight Breeders’ Cup races, the Santa Anita Derby 10 times, the Santa Anita Handicap four times, and the Arlington Million twice.
With Saturday’s victory aboard Oxbow, Stevens has ridden 4,888 winners and collected $221 million in purses.
He won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey award in 1996, an Eclipse award in 1998 and the Mike Venezia Memorial award for “extraordinary ability and citizenship” in 1999. Stevens also had a significant role in the 2003 movie Seabiscuit, playing the part of famed jockey George Woolf, opposite Toby McGuire. He was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance.
Due to knees that had undergone a dozen surgeries, Stevens announced his first retirement in 2005. He had several comebacks and re-retirements after that, working mainly as a racing commentator when he wasn’t piloting thoroughbreds.
After losing 25 pounds and eight percent of his body fat during training late last year under the supervision of Bellevue-based personal trainer Clark Masterson, Stevens began his latest comeback in January and on May 12 rode his first winner at Santa Anita. He registered his first graded win in the San Marcos Stakes aboard the filly Branding.
“Now,” Stevens said Saturday, “it’s on to the Belmont.”