The Great Gary Stevens Hangs Up His Tack

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D.S. Williamson

December 27th, 2018

On Dec. 26, 2018 some of the best jockeys in the world took a leg up on some of the top horses in North America at the Great Race Place, Santa Anita Park. One jockey that didn't take a leg up was the great Gary Stevens. Stevens, George Woolf to those who have seen the movie Seabiscuit, had his final ride on a horse named Northwestern in a maiden special weight race at Del Mar on Nov. 17.

Stevens has never been one to make a big deal out of anything, which is why he quietly announced his retirement after riding Northwestern. It's impossible to give justice to one of the best jockeys to ever live. But, I'll try by talking about 5 of his most memorable rides.

Quietly, the Great Gary Stevens Hangs Up His Tack

1988 Kentucky Derby - Winning Colors

Gary's first Triple Crown race victory happened aboard the D. Wayne Lukas trained Winning Colors. A daughter of Caro, Winning Colors faced excellent horses in the 1988 Kentucky Derby, including Forty Niner and Risen Star. A son of Secretariat, Risen Star would go on to win the Preakness and Belmont.

Winning Colors was not only the third filly to ever win the Kentucky Derby, she was the first roan to ever win the Run for the Roses. Stevens took the lead right out of the gate and didn't look back.

1996 Breeders' Cup Mile - Da Hoss

European horses often own Breeders' Cup turf races. Da Hoss was close to 9/1 when he entered the starting gate in the 1996 Breeders' Cup Mile. The favorites, Mark of Esteem and Charnwood Forest, both went off at around even money.

Gary Stevens showed that he can ride equally well on both turf and dirt in major races. He handled Da Hoss beautifully in that horses first BC Mile victory.

1998 Belmont Stakes - Victory Gallop

Only a year before, Gary had been the jockey on the Bob Baffert trained Silver Charm. Charm had taken the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before finishing second in the Belmont to Touch Gold. Stevens and Baffert had been oh so close to winning the Triple Crown.

A year later, trainer Elliott Walden put Gary Stevens on Victory Gallop hoping to stop the Baffert trained Real Quiet from winning the Crown. Amazingly, chasing lone speed, Stevens got Victory Gallop up by a nose. It was one of the most heart wrenching losses in Baffert's career.

It was also the perfect example of how Gary Stevens put his best foot forward no matter what the situation, horse, or race. Stevens got the job done again.

2016 Breeders' Cup Distaff - Beholder

I stood at the rail at Santa Anita Park to watch the match race between Songbird and Beholder. Technically not a match race, most everyone felt the winner would come down to the brilliant 3-year-old filly from Jerry Hollendorfer's barn and the classy veteran, Beholder.

After Songbird got away with a 47.16 half-mile, it sure looked like Beholder would come up short. Gary got Beholder's nose down on the wire to deny Mike Smith and Songbird a BC Distaff victory, though, showing that late in his career, he still had impeccable timing.

2018 City of Hope Mile Stakes - Sharp Samurai

Stevens' last graded victory wasn't without incident. He lost the whip in the stretch, but still managed to get Sharp Samurai to the finish line first. That tells us a couple of things. Even towards the end of his career, Stevens was doing whatever it took to get the victory.

Not only that, but he was riding just as well before retiring as he was a decade ago. That's what's amazing about Gary Stevens. He decided to retire. Father Time didn't catch up to him. Bigger and better things are on the horizon for one of the greatest jockeys to ever ride. For horseplayers, it's going to be strange to never see the name Gary Stevens next to the name of horses in racing programs.