Stevens looks to emerge a better rider than before

Fri Jan 4, 2013 5:08pm EST
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By Steve Ginsburg

(Reuters) - Happy, healthy and chock-full of confidence, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens says he is returning to the track after a seven-year hiatus for one reason: because he can.

In fact, Stevens believes he can return to the saddle as a better rider than the one who won the Kentucky Derby three times and over $221 million in purses.

"My body and my brain are telling me I can come back," Stevens told Reuters on Friday in a telephone interview from Santa Anita Park outside Los Angeles. "It's not something that just happened overnight.

"I've spent the better part of the last three months preparing for what's about to happen. I'm basically trusting my instincts."

Stevens announced Thursday his intention to ride again and that his first time in the starting gate will be aboard Jebrica on Sunday in a $50,000 claiming race at Santa Anita.

The affable jockey had hung up the tack in late 2005 with a battered body and a right knee that caused so much pain it was hard to walk. His road back was almost by accident.

"It started out I just wanted to get on a couple horses in the morning for exercise and fun -- for my own well-being," he said. "The way I felt I was thinking, 'Man, I wish I felt like this the last six or seven years I was riding.'

"My body just continued to improve."   Continued...

Jockey Gary Stevens arrives at the Hollywood premiere of the HBO series "Luck" in Los Angeles, California January 25, 2012. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas