Racing Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens gave official confirmation Jan. 3 to the rumors that have been flying since he started getting back on Thoroughbreds eight weeks ago. On Jan. 6 at Santa Anita Park, he'll start riding races again.
"I've been getting on horses for the past eight weeks and there's been a lot of speculation about me coming back," said Stevens, who will turn 50 on March 6. "I've worked some exciting horses over the past couple of weeks, a couple in particular that kind of made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and I said 'Man, I missed this,' just the feeling of that straight power and speed underneath you.
"I spent the last couple of months...up in the great Northwest, up in Seattle going through kind of a boot camp-type program just getting healthy and fit and getting on some horses and I said 'I want to give it a go again.'"
Stevens has the call on R and R Warren's Jebrica
, a 5-year-old Washington-bred gelding, in race 6 on the Jan. 6 card, a $50,000 claiming event for 4-year-olds and upward going a mile on the turf. The duo breaks from post 3.
"He's a horse that's been training well and (this) gives me a chance to stretch my legs and get my timing back a little bit," Stevens said.
The jockey, who suffered chronic knee pain and hung up his tack in 2005, prepped for his comeback at the Pro Sports Club's 20/20 lifestyles program in Bellevue, Wash.
"I haven't felt this way since probably five years before I retired," he remarked. "What I'm doing in the gym every day and on horseback every day gives me a pretty good indication that I'm good for quite a while."
Stevens said his weight had ballooned to 146 pounds at one point, though he had recently maintained it at 132 to 135. After going through the intensive training regimen and changing his diet, Stevens said he "got down to 119 without even trying."
Stevens said he will ride while continuing to serve as an analyst for HRTV and with NBC Sports while he rides races, but plans to selectively pursue mounts.
"I don't think you'll see me ony any maiden $25,000 claimers," he said. "I'm going to be very selective on what I'll be riding, and if that means not riding at all or upsetting people then so be it."
He has not named an agent to manage his book, but said, "I've talked to some people, and you should hear something in the next couple days."
A three-time winner of both the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and a two-time Preakness (gr. I) winner, Stevens also counts eight Breeders' Cup scores among his 4,888 wins to date. A native of Caldwell, Idaho, he began his career in 1979 at Les Bois Park and was a leading rider in Washington before moving to California and establishing his name on the South Cal circuit.
In 1993, Stevens became the youngest jockey to surpass $100 million in earnings. His career earnings currently rest at $221,212,704.
"I didn't come back to ride five days a week, nine races a day," Stevens said. "I came back with the hope of helping develop good racehorses."
Stevens has been an active member of the racing community even after his retirement from riding. He trained horses, worked as an agent besides serving as an analyst for TVG and NBC Sports as well as HRTV. He also starred as George Woolf in the 2003 blockbuster film Seabiscuit, and was a regular cast member on the short-lived HBO television series Luck, playing the grizzled journeyman rider Ronnie Jenkins.
Jack Shinar contributed to this story.