Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens, who has enjoyed a sensational comeback from retirement over the past 18 months, announced on HRTV Thursday evening that he will have to undergo total knee replacement surgery. The 51-year-old expects to be sidelined for approximately six months.
Following the knee replacement and the rehabilitation process, Stevens hopes to be able to return to race riding. He emphasized that he was not retiring again, but going on hiatus to take care of the chronic knee problems that have simply become too much to manage.
Yet, during his conversation with Laffit Pincay III and Christina Blacker on HRTV, he noted that if the new knee isn't comfortable enough, he would ultimately have to leave the saddle for good.
"If I don't trust it, then I shouldn't be out there," Stevens said.
Stevens' recurring knee problems sent him into retirement twice before. He retired in December 1999 after his fourth knee surgery, but was back in action in early October 2000, and continued to ride for five more years. In 2005, Stevens again called it a career, and his riding days truly appeared to be over as he was firmly established as a racing commentator on HRTV and NBC.
But with the benefit of seven years' rest, Stevens felt able to launch a comeback at Santa Anita on January 6, 2013. His return has succeeded beyond any realistic hopes. Just four months later, he guided Oxbow to victory in the Preakness Stakes, his ninth career win in a Triple Crown race. Stevens crowned his amazing season by turning the Breeders' Cup Distaff/Classic double on Beholder and Mucho Macho Man, respectively. Mucho Macho Man handed him his 10th career Breeders' Cup win, but his first in the Classic.
On Thursday, Stevens revealed that he hasn't had total mobility in his knee throughout his comeback. He had been able to make adjustments to compensate -- until a month ago, and he admitted that as a result, he wasn't satisfied with some of his recent rides.
Stevens underwent a procedure on his knee Monday, but it didn't "react" well to it at all. Fluid has been drained from the knee Wednesday and again on Thursday, and according to his doctors, it cannot take any more.
"It's time to get a new knee," the Hall of Famer summed up, adding that he knew that this day would eventually come.
Stevens was named to ride for trainer Tom Proctor on Arlington Park's "Million Preview Day" Saturday, including Avanzare in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap and Gulsary in the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap. The Hall of Famer informed Proctor of his situation, and up-and-coming apprentice Drayden Van Dyke has taken over his mounts at Arlington. Stevens also spoke with Beholder's trainer, Richard Mandella, and trainer Bob Baffert.
Inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1997, Stevens also garnered an Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in 1998. He has won 4,988 races, and his mounts have earned $236,951,490, placing him ninth on the list of North American jockeys by career earnings.
A three-time Kentucky Derby winner, courtesy of Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995) and Silver Charm (1997), he has three Preakness wins with Silver Charm, Point Given (2001) and Oxbow. Stevens likewise counts a trio of Belmont victories, thanks to Thunder Gulch; Victory Gallop, who famously foiled Real Quiet's Triple Crown bid in a 1998 thriller; and Point Given's 12 1/4-length rout.
Stevens' popularity reached a far wider audience in 2003, when he played the all-time great jockey George Woolf in the blockbuster movie "Seabiscuit."