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Are You Kidding Me, Gary Stevens? Oxbow Wins 2013 Preakness

Stevens Scratches 7 Year Itch With Preakness

Lukas, Oxbow and Stevens Enjoy Preakness WinHall of Fame veteran Gary Stevens, who recently came out of a 7 year retirement and is now 50 years old, won the 2013 Preakness Stakes aboard Oxbow in a wire-to-wire ride that few saw coming. But honestly… I should have known better, and I am still kicking myself for not paying closer attention to my instincts. While the rest of the world seemed strongly focused on Orb winning the second leg of the Triple Crown (myself included, to some degree), the other “O” horse had a few tricks up his sleeve and the head jokester on his back. After the race, Stevens had this to say-

 

“With a half-mile to go, I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ The race was over. I just walked the dog.”

Stevens’ All-Star Career, Retirement & Comeback

Gary Stevens Gary Stevens has had a most remarkable career to say the least. He started as a jockey in 1979 and retired in 2005, giving him 26 years of racing and a staggering $221,207,064 in earnings.  Not too shabby for a guy out of Caldwell, Idaho, who at age 7 had to wear a hip brace for 19 months because he had been diagnosed with Perthes syndrome, a degenerative hip disease. In his career prior to 2013, he had won the Kentucky Derby 3 times, the Belmont 3 times and the Preakness twice, making last Saturday’s win put a nice balance to his stats for Triple Crown races.  He was entered into the Hall of Fame in 1998 and holds many other awards and honors for his racing career. He even wrote a book in 2002 entitled “The Perfect Ride” before he retired in 2005.

Gary Stevens in SeabiscuitBut retiring as a mega-superstar in horse racing meant that Stevens had many other opportunities waiting for him. In 2006, he became a racing analyst for TVG and then landed a gig as NBC Sports’ lead horse racing analyst.  In 2007, he became a jockey agent for Corey Nakatani and in 2009, he began Gary Stevens Horse Racing Stable Inc. with his son, T.C. Stevens. He had already aced the role of George Woolf in 2003’s movie, Seabiscuit, and followed that up in 2011’s HBO series Luck, as an aging jockey named Ronnie. It seemed there was nothing Stevens couldn’t do and do well.

Gary Stevens’ Racing Psychology 101

But it wasn’t good enough for the 50 year old veteran jockey. Earlier this year Stevens came back to racing, having missed the thrill of the ride. The minute he came back onto the scene, I followed him. No one loves a comeback story more than I do and I knew Stevens would make a great one. My first thought before I ever even read anything he had to say about it was that he would be aiming for the major races. In an interview he did with DRF (full interview here) back in January, one quote puzzled me-

 

“I was talking with [NBC producer] Rob Hyland, and I fully expect to be behind the desk at the Triple Crown.”

Behind the desk?  Are you kidding me, Gary?! Why come back to racing at all if you didn’t intend on competing with the best? I didn’t buy it and made a personal note to see how that played out. It was at that moment I realized that Stevens liked to say one thing, but show another. Even before his official comeback he was quoted as saying-

 

“As far as a comeback, I don’t know who’s spreading these rumors … I will be working for HRTV on opening day. That’s the only comment I have.” (full article here)

JebricaAlmost a month later, Stevens hopped onto his first mount, Jebrica, and finished 3rd in a $50,000 claimer at Santa Anita. The comeback had started and he was proving to me right away- don’t trust what Gary Stevens has to say about his racing. He likes to trick us. Knowing this, I should have been prepared for the Preakness.

Even after Stevens hit the comeback trail, he denied any focus towards the Derby or any of the Triple Crown races, remaining loyal to NBC and HRTV. In January, he talked of his plans to finish the Santa Anita meet and head out to Keeneland and Churchill afterwards. When asked about his chances for trying to obtain a Derby mount or continuing as an analyst, Stevens said-

 

“It’s going to take a horse I think is 1 to 9 in the Kentucky Derby for me not to be up there doing the telecasts” (full article here)

Stevens and Oxbow Derby WorkoutBut once May rolled around, Stevens found himself in the 2 post position in the Run for the Roses aboard a horse named Oxbow, whose morning line was 30-1. I knew then that he must have thought something special about Oxbow. As a master of misdirection, many thought that Stevens was just taking the mount because he could, but I paid closer attention to his statement. Gary Stevens really thought he had a Derby winner on his hands, no matter what the morning line said.

He also told the press that he was going to take Oxbow straight to the lead in the Derby and that everyone else was going to have to catch him. When the gates flew open, Oxbow did jump to the lead for a second or two, but then eased up as horses like Palace Malice, Verrazano and Goldencents fought for a ridiculous opening pace. Clever as always, Gary stalked the lead and although he only finished 6th it seemed to me that he had used a bit of reverse psychology on the rest of the field. It was if he intended on making the front runners burn out in hopes of saving enough gas from Oxbow to blast passed them in the end. It had not worked out entirely in his favor, but you could clearly see that he had a good solid plan. Pretty sneaky, Stevens.

Gary Stevens Goes Obi-Wan in Preakness

Oxbow Wins 2013 PreaknessWhen it came time for the Preakness, I should have been focused on Stevens, but like the rest of the world, I was more concerned with Orb and his 2nd step towards the Triple Crown. Even when Gary Stevens and Mike Smith did a brief interview before the race, Gary’s words didn’t hit me in the face until after he crossed the finish line. In the interview he stated something along the lines of not bouncing straight to the lead in this race, but sitting back in about the 3rd or 4th position from the start. (Forgive me for not finding the direct quote- it looks like someone from NBC would have posted it, but I can’t find it! If anyone else can, post the link in the comments below.) Instead of lying back in that 3rd or 4th spot, what does Gary do? The King of Misdirection charges to the lead proclaiming “Gotta’ fly!” like one of his scenes out of the movie Seabiscuit!

Stevens Wins Preakness Aboard OxbowMany are going to say that this is all just coincidence and that a good, veteran, Hall of Fame jockey will roll with the punches in a major stakes race like the Preakness. And maybe that is true. Maybe, Stevens saw that no one was going to take the early lead so he went for it. Or maybe Oxbow just had a plan of his own and Stevens was merely along for the ride. Maybe. Then again, maybe as the only grandfather in the race he put out a little Jedi mind trick on the other jockeys and took advantage with his reverse psychology scheme. I hate that I didn’t call it, knowing what I’ve seen from him all along, but if this was Stevens’ plan- I love it. Are you kidding me, Gary Stevens? Bravo for fooling us all.

 

 

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Mike Jr, eldest son of Mike Lane Sr, is co-lead author at HandicapHorseRacing.com and was raised on thoroughbred horse racing and handicapping. Although father and son often butt heads on their selections, they both have much love and admiration for the sport. Mike Jr. brings a new, fresh perspective to horse racing and is often in search of new angles to try.

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