The son of a Hall of Fame jockey will start his own riding career Sunday afternoon in New Orleans.
T.C. Stevens makes his riding debut in sixth race of Sunday’s Fair Grounds card, an allowance optional claiming race going one mile and 70 yards over the dirt. He will be aboard 20-1 long shot Motown Missile in a race for 3-year-olds that goes off at 4:45 p.m. EDT.
Stevens is the son of Gary Stevens, whose career included Kentucky Derby victories with Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995) and Silver Charm (1997). The elder Stevens also won the Belmont Stakes and Preakness Stakes three times each and scored 11 Breeders’ Cup victories.
In a Fair Grounds news release, T.C. Stevens, 38, said he has been working very hard to prepare for his race-riding debut after serving about a year as an exercise rider for trainer Brad Cox.
“I feel like I’m a different person for the better since I started working to become a jockey,” Stevens said. “People who have known me for a long time tell me they can see it in my eyes. I'm 38, but I feel like I've really grown up and matured being down here (at Fair Grounds), working for Brad and now the last six weeks on this journey.”
Stevens also expressed gratitude to Cox and Steve Asmussen, Hall of Fame trainer of Motown Missile.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Brad,” he said. “Brad allowed me to take my riding to a new level. He put trust in me and gave me confidence I didn't know I could have. He's been instrumental in getting me to this point.”
He also said he is “very grateful to Asmussen and his staff for giving me this opportunity.”
He said his hard work on the Equicizer, a
mechanical exercise horse, designed to give jockeys a warm-up and a workout, helped prepare him for the race.
“I go into the jockeys room and ride the hair off that Equicizer,” T.C. said. “So much so that last week, Corey (Lanerie) told me, ‘T.C., you need to give that Equicizer a walk day. You rubbed all the hair off his sides, his ears are dripping.’”
It paid off. He’s got his apprentice license with the condition that he rides two successful races before the Fair Grounds meet ends on Sunday, March 26.
“My backs flatter, my forms better, my elbows are in, I've got the rhythm of the horse,” T.C. said. “Instead of trying to make the horse move with me, I'm moving with the horse. I’ve prepared myself as much as I can for my first race without having already ridden. There's nothing I haven't done. I realize there's a lot I don't know and there's going to be a long learning curve. I've galloped horses for 13 years. I've been doing this a long time and I’m confident in my heart that I'm ready.”
With Stevens up, Motown Missile will carry 114 pounds Sunday, five less than the other six entrants in the race. The Mo Town gelding won a maiden claiming race in his third start Jan. 20, then was runner-up in claiming flight at the same track Feb. 24.
Stevens' step-mother, Angie Stevens, said T.C. has had exercise riding duties for Kentucky Derby 2023 prospect Instant Coffee and Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Caravel, among others while working for Cox.
While Stevens builds his business riding in the afternoons, he will continue working in the mornings for the Eclipse Award-winning trainer Cox.
“He’s worked really hard," said Angie Stevens, who is also handling marketing and publicity duties for her step-son. "We didn’t know if this was something he would want to do or that he would be able to do it. He’s put in so much work to get to this point that we’re really proud of.
"He’s been around racing and jockeys his whole life. It’s a natural progression – just getting to it a little later than most would."
Bishops Bay for Stevens's boss is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for Fair Grounds’ sixth race Sunday. The Cox trainee debuted a winner at six furlongs there Feb. 18 and goes two turns for the first time Sunday.