Gary Stevens after his victory in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic aboard Mucho Macho Man. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire unless otherwise noted)
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens and Chantal Sutherland-Kruse, a two-time Sovereign Award winner in her native Canada, take America's Best Racing's readers inside the jockeys' room in 2014. Stevens and Sutherland-Kruse will provide answers to all sorts of questions such as how jockeys get paid, what goes on between races, whom they admire and what type of music and fashion style they favor.
This edition of Inside the Jockeys' Room is a compilation of the best questions and answers so far from Gary Stevens, who has recently announced he will ride in the 2014 Breeders' Cup just 14 weeks after having total knee replacement surgery.
Stevens' comeback in 2013 was arguably the biggest story in horse racing and featured wins in the Preakness Stakes with Oxbow and Breeders' Cup Classic with Mucho Macho Man. Read on to find out about his career as a jockey and the magic formula for his continued success.
At what age did you first ride a horse and when did you realize you wanted to be a jockey?
STEVENS: I rode my first horse at age three. My mom was a rodeo queen, so she got me up on a horse when I was little. I don’t know what age I knew I wanted to be a jockey. My dad was a trainer and my older brother was a jockey, so I was around it my whole life. We would ride horses around our yard, so it was always in my life.
Did you have to go to a special school or take training to become a jockey? Who taught you how to become a successful jockey?
STEVENS: I didn’t go to a special school because I had my dad, mom and older brother all in the horse world. My brother, Scott Stevens, taught me everything about riding and becoming a jockey. There is now a jockey school run by ex-jockey Chris McCarron, but when I was growing up there was not a school.
STEVENS AND FELLOW JOCKEYS
What is an average race day in the life of a jockey like?
STEVENS: I can only say what my average day is like, as every jockey’s average day is different. I wake up around 6 a.m. I check my weight on the scale. That determines a lot of how my day will shape up. I get ready and feed my dogs. I make a protein shake, read a little bit on the TDN, then head to Clocker’s Corner. Some mornings I work horses, but even if I don't work horses I head out to the track. I talk with my agent and trainers. If it is a race day, I head home and finish reading the TDN. I go through the [Daily Racing] Form and handicap my races. I head down to the jocks’ room and walk a few miles on the treadmill or hit the hot box if I have to. I prefer to walk versus sweating in the box. I then go through the Form again and see if there are any races I want to watch to help me figure out my strategy for the races that day. I hang in the room between races and hopefully make a trip or two to the winner’s circle. After the races, I talk to my agent. I then head home and have dinner with my family or we go out to dinner. Then, I watch a movie or TV and go to bed and do it all over again.
My least favorite thing about my morning routine is?
STEVENS: Waking up. It is getting really hard to wake up at my age. The second hardest thing is getting on the scale. That determines how my day will play out.
Can you explain the role of a jockey agent, how it is determined which mounts you get and how far in advance are they typically planned out?
STEVENS: A jockey agent books your mounts. He is in charge of picking which horses a jockey rides in which races. Sometimes a horse’s races are planned out for the year. Other times, a trainer is looking in a condition book trying to find a race. So it just depends on the horse and the trainer on how far out it is planned. Races enter a few days before, so you usually know about three days out what you are actually riding.
What’s the best horse you’ve ever ridden and what made him/her special?
STEVENS: There are too many good ones to pick just one.
What’s the one horse you didn’t ride but wish you had the opportunity to have ridden?
THE GREAT FRANKEL
How many horses do you ride in a typical day?
STEVENS: In a typical day I ride a few horses, two to three on a regular day, maybe five on a big stakes day. I try to limit my rides now. When I was younger I tried to ride every race if I had a live mount. I can't do that anymore with my knees, so I pick and choose.
Would you rather win the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders’ Cup Classic and why?
STEVENS: The Kentucky Derby. It is America’s race.
Which living person do you admire most and why?
STEVENS: I admire the old-school horsemen who still do it the old-school way. There are a lot of them. I really admire Leonard Lavin of Glen Hill Farm. He is still doing it the old-school, classy way.
Do you have any kind of rituals or superstitions before you race?
STEVENS: I do have rituals and superstitions, but I'm not giving away my secrets!
Which current fellow jockey do you admire the most and why?
STEVENS: Mike Smith. He is the one who motivated me to come back.
SMITH, STEVENS AND DAUGHTER MADDIE
Photo courtesy of the Stevens family
What was your lucky break?
STEVENS: Winning the Kentucky Derby on Winning Colors. Wayne Lukas giving me the mount. My brother Scott working the horse. How it all came together.
What’s the magic formula for success?
STEVENS: Hard work.
What was the best advice you ever received from a trainer? What was the result?
STEVENS: Trainer [Sir] Michael Stoute told me to ride every race like it’s my first race. It has resulted in me winning Breeders Cup races. I don't like that I'm giving away my secrets here.
What do you do with your time in between races?
STEVENS: I watch films of races to help me figure out my strategy for my races. We talk with each other in the [jockeys’] room, watch the races of the day and see how the other guys are doing.
What is the best jockeys’ room prank you can remember?
STEVENS: Shoemaker use to do pranks on a daily basis. You would put your boots on and they would be glued to the floor or be filled with shaving cream. It was constant
Do you talk to other jockeys in between races? Is there much chatter among jockeys during a race? If so, can you give an example of some interesting chatter you’ve been involved with?
STEVENS: Sometimes we talk to other jocks between races. It depends on the race day and the tension in the room. Sometimes there is chatter during a race, and sometimes there is not. Once again, it just depends on the race.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a jockey?
STEVENS: Working as a broadcaster for NBC.
STEVENS, CENTER, WORKING AS A BROADCASTER
What’s your favorite racetrack and why?
STEVENS: Santa Anita is my favorite racetrack. I live about a mile from the track so it is my home track. It is truly the most beautiful backdrop of any racetrack anywhere.
Why has winning the Triple Crown become so difficult? Can it be done?
STEVENS: This is like a five-paragraph answer. It is too long to answer here with all the reasons and things this sport should do.
How often do you workout, and what’s your favorite go-to exercise for staying in shape?
STEVENS: Every day I work out. I walk either with my dogs or on a treadmill. I also work horses.
What is your most valued racing memento?
STEVENS: My belt buckle for leading apprentice at Les Bois Park.
How do you want to be remembered?
STEVENS: I'm just hoping they remember me.
If you could breed any two horses and be guaranteed to ride the progeny, which two horses would you play matchmaker for and why?
STEVENS: Wow. Good question. Storm Bird and Azeri. That horse would not lose!
What’s the best horse racing event in America for a new fan to attend?
STEVENS: Breeders’ Cup.
Which talent would you most like to have?
STEVENS: The talent that I have to ride. I am truly blessed.
Who are your heroes in real life?
STEVENS: George Patton, Bill Shoemaker, Scott Stevens
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
STEVENS: Being a father.
STEVENS WITH HIS DAUGHTER MADDIE
Photo courtesy of the Stevens family
What hobbies do you have away from horse racing?
STEVENS: Golf, and studying horse pedigrees.
If you could switch roles for one day with any other professional athlete, who would you switch with and what would you do?
STEVENS: Tiger Woods. I'd hit the ball square.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
STEVENS: Football player. I didn’t grow big enough.
Ideal playlist on my iPod would have these five songs:
STEVENS: I'm not sure which songs but it would have country music, Johnny Cash, CCR [Creedence Clearwater Revival], and Jackson Browne.
People tell me I remind them of … ?
STEVENS: Paul Newman, old blue eyes.
There is nothing in the universe more powerful than … ?
Name five things you cannot live without:
STEVENS: I am pretty simple and feel that I could live without anything. I would say my family, or food, or my car or my phone ... but I've lived without all of these things at times.
What is your dream vacation?
STEVENS: My dream vacation would be to travel forever and not have a schedule or to ever have to go home.
What kind of car do you drive?
STEVENS: I drive a red 2004 Jeep Wrangler. I bought it when I won the Preakness on Oxbow. (I told you I wasn't really extravagant with cars anymore). I also have a Nissan Titan and a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softtail, although I rarely ride the Harley anymore.
Roller-coaster or haunted house?
What’s your favorite scent or aroma on the planet?
STEVENS: Roses … especially on the first Saturday in May.