(From Santa Anita)
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, 46, who retired as a rider in 2005 with over 5,000 victories before opening a California-based training operation in August, gained his first win as a trainer Oct. 16 at Santa Anita when Higher Incentive won Oak Tree’s third race and paid $15.40.
Stevens, the son of longtime Northwest-based trainer Ron Stevens, connected with his seventh starter since becoming a conditioner. Rafael Bejarano rode the 6-year-old mare who had recently been placed in Stevens’ care after racing in the East for Winning Move Stable and Winter Park Partners.
According to Stevens, his cell phone rang no more than 10 seconds after Higher Incentive had crossed the finish line a neck ahead of Raiding Party in the $32,000 claiming event contested over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course.
"It was my dad calling,” he said. “It was pretty special. He was very emotional and so was I.”
Ron Stevens, in fact, had saddled the first winner that launched his son’s Hall of Fame riding career when the younger Stevens was 16 years of age at Les Bois Park in Idaho on April 21, 1979. The horse’s name was Little Star.
"This took a little bit longer to get done than when I started out as a jock,” Stevens said. “My first win as a jock was nothing like this. I haven’t had this kind of emotion ever, ever. I told Eoin Harty the other morning, ‘I’ve never worked so hard in all my life at something and got nothing.’”
A winner of eight Triple Crown events including three Kentucky Derbies as well as eight Breeders’ Cup races, the native of Caldwell, Ida., continues to work as a commentator for HRTV.
As for training, “I knew in the back of my head that this was destined to happen,” he said. “In the paddock today, Richard Mandella came over to me and said, ‘Hey, what about the untucked shirt?’ I said, ‘Look, it’s my first day off in a long time. I’m not doing HRTV today, and it’s a lot cooler with the shirt out.’”
After the race, according to Stevens, Mandella approached him and said, “I’m going to give that untucked shirt thing a try.”
A winner of a record nine Santa Anita Derbies during a riding career that spanned 27 years, Stevens shared credit for his first training success.
“I want to credit (retired Hall of Fame jockey) Angel Cordero on this, too,” he said. “He called me about two weeks ago and recommended a groom named Reynaldo Abreu. This mare was based in New York and so was Reynaldo. He arrived five days ago, and already he’s made a huge difference for us. He’s rubbed a lot of Grade I winners in the East, and he’s picked our outfit up.”