Gary Stevens has always held a metaphorical horseshoe upright.
He’s earned fame.
He has made a fortune.
He has a happy family.
And he feels healthier than he did before retiring as a jockey in 2005.
So why did the 50-year-old grandfather decide to return to horse racing after a seven-year hiatus?
The HBO television series Stevens was working on was canceled last year, and the eight-time Triple Crown-winning jockey, turned horse racing analyst and actor wasn’t just out of a job — he was no longer on a horse.
Stevens knew he wanted to continue to compete — on or off screen — and knew he had to take advantage of the time he was still capable.
“Luck was canceled and it left a big void,” Stevens said of the television series that starred Dustin Hoffman for 10 episodes.
Four months after announcing his decision to return to the sport, Stevens will be atop the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow today in the $2 million, 139th running of the Kentucky Derby.
“I’m really happy that he’s succeeded and that he’s content where he is,” said his wife, Angie Stevens.
“He’s way happier for sure. I have seen a change in his demeanor.”
His body has changed, as well.
Stevens spent six weeks in a grueling training program in Seattle. He entered the mental, physical and diet training program in November weighing 134 pounds and left before Christmas. He now weighs 113 pounds.
“When he went there we all knew this is what’s happening,” Angie Stevens said.
Stevens said he did not want to look back when he was 70 and regret that he did not continue his career when he was still able to ride.
Instead of analyzing the action for NBC, as he’s done for the network’s Triple Crown coverage since 2006, he wanted to be in front of the cameras again.
And he is back, because he wants to win.
This will be Stevens’ 19th Kentucky Derby and he is attempting to win his first since 1997 and fourth overall. He also won in his current hometown of Louisville, Ky., in 1988 and 1995.
Stevens also has won three times at the Belmont Stakes (1995, ‘98, 2001) and twice at the Preakness Stakes (1997, 2001).
But his biggest victories might have come on an even bigger stage, in the 2003 film Seabiscuit. Stevens, the 1996 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award winner, played Woolf in the movie. It was a start to an acting career and led to his work with NBC.
Even though he is competing today, Stevens will contribute to NBC’s broadcast of the Kentucky Derby. A sit-down interview with Bob Costas has been taped and he’ll return to the booth after the race.
He surely would like to first stop in the winner’s circle, but that could be a stretch.
At 30-1 odds, Oxbow is a long shot to win today. But Stevens remains easy to root for, especially if you’re going to watch his return at Les Bois Park.
Stevens started his jockey career atop horses his father, Ron, trained and later dominated at Les Bois. His older brother, Craig, has been the clerk of scales at the track in Boise.
Stevens also is easy to root for today, not because he was born in Caldwell, grew up in Boise and attended Capital High. And it’s not because he has been successful racing horses on the biggest tracks, movies and TV shows.
Stevens is easy to root for because he’s a guy that has accomplished so much, accumulated great wealth and fame, yet he returned to his roots to do something he enjoys doing.
“He just truly missed it,”Angie Stevens said.
“I’m glad that he came back.”
Looking back, the cancellation of that TV show might have been named appropriately.
It was Luck.