Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is taking another break from the saddle to undergo knee replacement surgery, but the 51-year-old rider plans to return to competition again.
Stevens, who has ridden 4,988 winners and ranks ninth all-time on the North American earnings' list with $236,951,490, resumed his career in January 2013 after retiring in 2005. Included in his comeback victories were the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) with Mucho Macho Man, Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) aboard Beholder, and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) with Oxbow .
During his break, Stevens served as a racing analyst for HRTV and NBC, and was among the actors on the HBO series "Luck."
Stevens, who also took time off from riding due to knee problems in 1999-2000, announced his latest break during an exclusive interview July 10 with HRTV's Laffit Pincay and Christina Blacker on the network's "Grandstand" show.
The following are selected excerpts from the interview, provided by HRTV:
Stevens: "Well, I've said since the time of my comeback that there was going to be a day that would come that I needed to give my knee a rest, and that day has come. My knee has thrown in the 'white flag.' I rode last weekend in New York, and then at Monmouth Park, and on the flight back (my knee) was aggravated pretty good. I had a little procedure done on Monday, and my knee didn't react well to it...I just came from the USC Medical Center (Dr. Rick Hatch), and had some fluid drained off of it for the second day in a row. It's time to get a new knee. I'm not throwing in the 'white flag.' It's just time to take a break, and we'll see how I react to the replacement. It's going to be a little bit of time before that happens. But the decision has been made that (the knee) is done."
Q: Your plan is to come back?
Stevens: "I have been encouraged by several people, including physicians, that I can come back and I'm going to be more comfortable than what I've been since my comeback. I haven't had total mobility in my knees since I started back and a lot of people don't understand how I was able to accomplish (what I have), and I made some adjustments to be able to ride with some comfort...until about a month ago. And I haven't been satisfied with some of my rides. Traffic, in certain situations, I'm not seeing things before they happen, like I was. And that's not good enough for me, it's not good enough for the fans, and it's not good enough for the owners or trainers that I ride for...if I'm not comfortable once the time comes to start getting back on horses after what I know is going to be a lengthy rehab, then hey, I'll spend more time sitting up here with you guys and I'll know that I'm going to be comfortable throughout the rest of my life. That's the biggest thing for me right now is to be comfortable, and be able to go there on the racetrack and be able to give 100% every time, and not wonder in the morning, when I get up, how am I going to feel today. And that time has come."
Q: When did you knee start giving you problems?
Stevens: "I worked on them constantly. It wasn't a deal where I got up every morning, rolled out of bed, and said 'I'm perfect.' My agent...Craig O'Brien, has done a terrific job managing my career over the last year and change. The trainers I ride for; man, they've have been so good to me. I spoke with Tom Proctor yesterday morning, and I'm named on four horses in Chicago Saturday. They have obviously made changes already. I told Tom I wasn't going to be able to make it. Let's see where I go from here...I spoke with Richard Mandella, Bob Baffert, who I had some extremely live mounts coming up for. But I wanted to give them enough time. I didn't feel it was fair to them, with the caliber of horses I was going to be riding, to try and get through the next couple of weeks. My plan was to try and nurse myself through Breeders' Cup. (It's) not going to happen. I thought it was fair to them to let other riders get acquainted with some of these great horses that I've been riding."
Q: What is the timeline that doctors have given you?
Stevens: "Six months for a typical sort of surgery...they said the one thing I have going for me is (that) I'm a fit, fit human being right now. They're not really used to seeing this type of person come in for a knee replacement. They said that's going to be a big benefit to me. It should shorten things up a little bit. Basically, what they told me as soon as the sutures are healed up, we can go 110%. That's what I'm used to. That's what I'm looking forward to at this point in time. Today, sitting here, I'm already thinking about the rehab process.
Q: How disappointed are you, considering how well things have gone in your comeback?
Stevens: "It doesn't matter how big the purse is if you don't have a chance of winning. I felt like I'm to the point right now where I am uncomfortable. Right now, just leaving the doctor and having the procedure done of having fluid drained off my knee less than an hour and a half ago.
"I'm not disappointed. Man, what a ride this has been for a year and a half. It was a dream come true. But, I'm not finished. In my mind, I'm not finished right now. But, I don't want to take away from what happened over my career, or especially this past year. If I can't come back to that level, and I fully expect to be to a different level, to be honest with you, as far as comfort...there's nothing worse than trying to do anything when you're in pain...you don't think clearly. That's my goal: to get rid of that pain and see where we are from there. Like I said when I came back to work, you weren't going to hear me say that I'm retiring, because I'm not. I'm taking a break right now, and we'll see how long that break is, and if I'm capable of coming back after this hiatus."