Next month will mark a year since Gary Stevens made his comeback nearing 50 after a seven-year retirement, and what a ride it's been.
While he's thrilled with the results of 2013, Gary is looking forward to 2014, not only for himself, but his brother, Scott, who is among the final five finalists for Santa Anita's George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award next year.
To no one's surprise, Scott's staunchest supporter is Gary, who won one of Thoroughbred racing's biggest honors himself in 1996 when he was named the 47th Woolf winner.
Despite his vested interest, Gary is steadfast in his belief that Scott is worthy of the award, which is voted on by peers and honors riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport. The other Woolf finalists are David Amiss, Dennis Carr, Aaron Gryder and Corey Lanerie.
At 52, Scott has never gained the international or monetary acclaim of his younger brother, who turns 51 this March 6. But that doesn't diminish one iota the love and respect Gary holds, and bloodlines have nothing to do with it.
“I think he's very deserving of the award,” Gary said. “Not just because it's my brother but because he exemplifies what the award's all about. He's a class act.
“When people ask me who I idolize in the sport, he's the guy. I wish that I behaved off the track like he does. He's my hero, not only as a rider, but more as a person. I'm rooting for him. He's been nominated a couple of times, so hopefully, this is the year.”
Scott has overcome life-threatening injuries several times during a career that began nearly 40 years go, winning more than 4,250 races at nationally under-the-radar ports of call such as Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Canada, Emerald Downs near Seattle, briefly in Northern and Southern California, and Les Bois Park in his home state of Idaho.
All that pales by light years, of course, to Gary, whose accomplishments shocked the racing world in 2013. Included among his 4,954 career triumphs were victories in this year's Preakness Stakes, the Breeders' Cup Distaff and the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Little wonder Gary is a candidate for his second Eclipse Award as North America's Outstanding Jockey, having won it in 1998. Not to be overlooked are his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1997, three Kentucky Derby victories, and 10 triumphs in Breeders' Cup races, tying him at sixth all-time with Lanfranco Dettori.
Add to the laurels a highly acclaimed acting debut in the 2002 movie mega hit, “Seabiscuit,” in which he portrayed none other than George Woolf himself, and gigs as analyst for HRTV and NBC-TV, and there's little doubt Gary has a Jack-of-all-trades mindset, except that he masters them all.
As to Gary's wild ride this year, “It couldn't have been much better,” he said. “I was in Vegas doing a book-signing a few days ago and during an interview, the guy says it looks like it's going to be between you and (Javier) Castellano for an Eclipse Award, and I started laughing.
“I said, ‘Just to have that mentioned at this time of year is amazing.' I didn't leave Seattle until Dec. 20 last year. That's when I came back to California from my fitness training . . . If somebody had told me then that I was going to be in the running for an Eclipse Award, I would have just laughed at them and thought they were making fun at me or something.
“But we've had a fun year. Craig (agent Craig O'Bryan) has done an unbelievable job; my horses have been unbelievable, the trainers and owners and everybody. It's been a fun, fun year, the most memorable of my career.”
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