Jockey Gary Stevens received, and gave, heartfelt thanks for his Hall of Fame career in ceremonies marking his retirement Saturday at Del Mar.
The 55-year-old native of Idaho, who ranks third for stakes wins and ninth for overall wins on the track's all-time list, was honored before the fourth race. Dressed in a sport coat, jeans and sharp-brimmed Stetson hat that he revealed was purchased at the Gangster Museum Of America in Hot Springs, Arkansas, while riding at Oaklawn Park, Stevens was surrounded by family and friends in the paddock before the race.
The group there included Bob Baffert, who combined with Stevens to win the Kentucky Derby on Silver Charm – Baffert's first, Stevens' third. Also on hand were Craig O'Bryan, Stevens' agent for a decade, and Tony Matos, agent at the time of his retirement.
“I had 10 great years with him and some of the best years I ever had were with him,” O'Bryan said earlier in the day. “It's kind of sad that he's retiring, but he goes out as one of the greatest ever.”
Proceeding to the winner's circle, Del Mar CEO Joe Harper presented Stevens with a gift, a surfboard, but with the admonition: “Do not use it. I've seen the MRI (of a vertebra pressing on his spinal cord) and you don't want to use it.”
Harper expressed the belief that Stevens would remain in the game in some capacity (“You have to”) and ended with “I love you pal, I'm going to miss seeing you up there in that saddle.”
Taking the microphone, Stevens, who had retired twice before but made comebacks, started with: “Third time's the charm. This is the final, final retirement.”
He graciously thanked his fellow riders, the fans and “Every single horseman that's out there before the sun comes up every morning.”
He called the Del Mar fall season and the area fans who come out to support it “pretty special” and noted the scheduled return of the Breeders' Cup to Del Mar in 2021. “This place is pretty awesome,” Stevens said.
“Trevor Denman, the greatest that's ever been, my man. I appreciate your calls.” Stevens said in ending his public comment.
“I have so many special memories here at Del Mar,” Stevens said later. “From my first Pacific Classic win (Bertrando, 1993) to my last one on Beholder (2015).” Those were two of Stevens' three Pacific Classic triumphs, the other coming aboard Gentlemen in 1997, and part of 100 career stakes victories at Del Mar.
Stevens said he plans to just enjoy retirement for a few weeks before deciding what to do next with his life. “I'll figure something out,” he said with a smile.
Third time's the charm. Thank you Gary! pic.twitter.com/KcZJ9Alroz
— Del Mar Racetrack (@DelMarRacing) November 24, 2018
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2019 Paulick Report.