Photo: Don August
As part of the 2013 Symposium on Racing & Gaming at the University of Arizona, the Turf Publicists of America will present the 2013 Big Sport of Turfdom Award to veteran rider, Gary Stevens. I could not think of a better choice.
After seven years away from race riding, it did not take long for the 50-year-old Hall of Famer to re-establish himself as one of the best in the business. Returning this January, Stevens scored a graded stakes win aboard distance turf specialist Slim Shadey within a few weeks of his return. That early success, though, was only a small sign of bigger things to come, as he has already accounted for eight Grade 1 victories this year. In fact, it has gotten so good for the likeable rider, that it would be hard to pick out one highlight in his year of the return.
In May, Stevens scored his third win in racing’s middle jewel when he piloted the front running long shot, Oxbow, to victory in the Preakness Stakes for 78-year-old trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.
“This year has been crazy and keeps getting better,” Stevens said. “I’m honored. Some of my idols and closest friends have received this award. It’s humbling.”
Humbling maybe, but as good as the Preakness was, it did only get better for the Idaho native. At the recent World Championships at Santa Anita, Stevens starred on both days, taking the signature event on each afternoon’s card. On Friday, he accounted for his third Breeders’ Cup Distaff aboard Beholder, and then on Saturday, he scored his first ever victory in America’s richest race, when he rode Mucho Macho Man to a popular victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Gary has long been a favorite of racing media and publicists but perhaps never more so than this year, as his remarkable comeback amazed every one of us,” said TPA President Mandy Minger. “Through it all he made himself consistently available with interviews that were both thoughtful and candid.”
I can echo Ms. Minger’s sentiment, as my limited experiences with Gary Stevens have always been positive.
Stevens not only is one of racing’s best, but he has carried the appeal of the sport successfully to a larger audience, having brought to life the characters of George Woolf on the big screen in the acclaimed 2003 film, Seabiscuit, as well as that of, troubled jockey, Ronnie, on HBO’s television series, Luck.
Gary Stevens as the 2013 Big Sport of Turfdom? I’d say so!