Gary Stevens had the look of a winner with a 100 yards to go in his first race since announcing his return to racing. The Hall of Fame jockey had the lead aboard Jebrica in a turf race on Sunday at Santa Anita as the finish line drew closer.
However, a storybook ending was not in the cards as Stevens and his mount were unable hold off two late runners in the mile race. The former Eclipse Award winning jockey finished third, but was happy with the ride.
"You can prepare all you want - like preparing a horse for a race in the morning," Steve said after the race. "There's nothing like a race itself. It feels good to get the cobwebs out, and I feel good. I'm proud of the people who have helped me get to this point, and I want to make them proud moving forward."
Last Thursday, Stevens announced his intention to resume his riding career after a seven year retirement. The main reason for his retirement and eventual return was the condition of his knees.
"My knees probably didn't feel this good the last five years that I rode," said Stevens on Thursday. "I've been getting on horses for the past eight weeks and there's been a lot of speculation about me coming back. I've worked some exciting horses over the past couple of weeks. A couple in particular that kinda 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."
During the retirement Stevens has been an analyst for HRTV and NBC, and appeared in the movie "Seabiscuit" as jockey George Woolf and for the time being he will remain as an analyst with both HRTV and NBC.
His first race back, however, was a positive experience for the 49-year-old veteran who will pick and choose future mounts.
"It felt really good. I rode long enough to know that turning into the backside, I was going to be loaded coming into the stretch," exclaimed Stevens. "I was looking over at Julien (Leparoux on Jimmy Simms), and he was just to my outside and had some horse. I knew I was going to be able to float out coming into the lane. Tyler's horse (Baze on Rock This Way) floated out just a tad coming out off the turn. It was a perfect trip, and like I said, it felt really good. I thought, 'Man, this is going to be a storybook comeback.' It wasn't meant to be, but it was close enough. That's the first time I've knuckled down on one in seven years, and it felt good."
Stevens was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1997 and the following year won an Eclipse Award as champion jockey. He is a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, along with a pair of Preakness victories.