Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens announced his retirement from riding Friday, but will not be leaving the sport. In a Churchill Downs press conference, Stevens said he would be joining the Television Games Network (TVG) as a racing analyst. Stevens will ride his last two races Saturday, when he has mounts on Sabatini in the Golden Rod Stakes and Louvre Royale in the 12th and final race on the Churchill card.
"Over the years it's been a wonderful career, but it's time to hang it up," Stevens noted. "I've thought about it at great length. I'm happy I can walk away in one piece. There are several reasons to do this now. Certainly the opportunities to work in television; making weight has been hard for the past four or five years; and my knees, although not the main issue, are a factor."
The 42-year-old native of Idaho recently captured his 5,000th victory despite riding the past several years with chronic knee problems which caused him to announce his retirement in 1999. After brief stints as an assistant trainer and jockey agent, Stevens felt his knees had heeled sufficiently to begin riding again. He shifted his tack from California to Churchill Down earlier this year.
Stevens said his biggest moment in the saddle was winning his first Kentucky Derby (gr. I) with Winning Colors. "Passing those twin spires, that was it," Stevens said, choking back emotion. He mentioned Rock Hard Ten, Point Given, Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm, Serena's Song, Silverbulletday, and Winning Colors as the best horses he's been on.
"The only thing that would have kept me going next year would have been Rock Hard Ten," Stevens said. "But when (owner) Ernie Moody called me last week and said the horse was being retired, I knew that was it for me."
Stevens is one of the most articulate riders in the history of the sport, which will serve him well when he begins at TVG in January with what he said was a mulit-year contract. "This is exciting because I'll be able to attend the biggest events in racing," Stevens said. He portrayed jockey George Woolf in the popular 2003 film "Seabiscuit," and garnered excellent reviews for his acting.
Stevens won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) three times in his career, aboard Winning Colors, Thunder Gulch
, and Silver Charm. He added two Preakness Stakes (gr. I) victories, three Belmont Stakes (gr. I), eight Breeders' Cup wins, and a record nine runnings of grade I Santa Anita Derbys. His mounts over a 26-year career earned more than $221 million. Stevens was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
"I couldn't be more excited about joining TVG," Stevens said. "I'm not retiring from racing, just from riding, and I look forward to giving TVG viewers an insider's look at what takes place on the racetrack." Stevens hinted that he might also be working for a "major network" in the future, but did not elaborate.
Stevens said his experience from 1999, when he battled depression after retiring, would help him this time around. "I didn't know what I was going to pursue then, so this is a better situation."
Stevens said he'd like to be remembered for his competitive spirit, and for being a consistent, patient, and prepared rider.
"We are excited to have Gary join TVG's roster," said TVG general manager David Nathanson. "As he proved in 'Seabiscuit,' he's comfortable in frnt of the camera and we're looking forward to the insight and expertise he can offer our viewers."