Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 5 at Churchill Downs.
The series continues this week with jockey Gary Stevens. He rides surprise Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford winner Bravazo in the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on Saturday at Fair Grounds for a fellow Hall of Famer in trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Stevens has to be viewed as one of racing’s marvels. He had his right knee replaced in 2014 and his left hip replaced in 2016. And yet, at age 55, he is as hungry as ever to return to Churchill Downs for another Kentucky Derby.
Calumet Farm’s Bravazo and Stevens drew the rail as part of a field of 10 for the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. They are listed as the second choice in the morning line at 7-2. The 1 1/8-mile contest also features top contenders My Boy Jack (5-2), winner of the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 19, and Snapper Sinclair (9-2), who missed by a nose to Bravazo in the Grade 2 Risen Star.
PEDULLA: Gary, what keeps you going?
STEVENS: I love doing my job. I’m enjoying it probably more than I have in my career. It’s not work for me. It’s enjoyment. I still get a heck of a thrill by winning races, the bigger the better. But any race is a good race to win.
PEDULLA: What are your thoughts on Bravazo? Are you excited about riding him in the Louisiana Derby.
STEVENS: I told Wayne he reminds me a lot of a horse I won a Kentucky Derby on, Thunder Gulch. He has fight in him and he showed that again in the Risen Star. He doesn’t have any quit in him, I’ll tell you that.
PEDULLA: Is the Louisiana Derby distance comfortable for him?
STEVENS: I think so. I think he’ll enjoy it. When I said he reminded me of Thunder Gulch, he didn’t have any distances limitations. He won the Belmont Stakes going a mile and a half. This horse has the ability to go on.
PEDULLA: What is it like to still be working with D. Wayne after all these years?
STEVENS: It’s special. He knows me so well and I know him so well. We just have a comfort level and a trust with each other. I know what he wants and what he can get out of a horse, and he knows what I can do on a horse’s back. It’s just a great relationship.
PEDULLA: Do you see the two of you still having the powers you once did?
STEVENS: Oh, yeah. I’m not going to lie to you. I wish I was in my mid-30’s again, but everybody does. I’ve got a pretty good body for a 55-year-old. I’m as fit as I’ve ever been.
PEDULLA: How are the knee and hip replacements holding up?
STEVENS: Unbelievably good. My knee, I don’t even know it’s not mine, other than it doesn’t hurt. I don’t even know it’s there. My hip, it’s just been over a year and it gets better with usage.
PEDULLA: Do you get some needling in the jockey’s room about this stuff?
STEVENS: They just call me “Bionic Man.” I get more comments that it’s not fair because I have bionic parts.
PEDULLA: How big is all of the experience you have, especially in big races?
STEVENS: It’s huge. I know what to expect when I go into every racetrack in America, for one thing. I’m at ease at any and every racetrack I go to. And because of my experience, I have a lot of confidence in myself. In this sport, confidence carries you a long way.
PEDULLA: How much would it mean to get a shot at another Derby and to win another one?
STEVENS: I want to win another Derby, man, and it would be cool to win with Wayne. I know we’d love to get back in that famous winner’s circle at Churchill together.