He has ridden plenty of great horses, and the results often come down to chemistry.
“Give me a great bond with a horse that’s third best over the best horse,” Stevens said.
Since beginning his comeback, he hasn’t found that bond in the top races. In the Dubai World Cup, his mount racked his shoulder into the starting gate and finished in 11th place. There was a disappointing sixth place at Santa Anita; and Oxbow — the horse he will ride Saturday — was out of the money at the Arkansas Derby.
Riding to win
Winning the Kentucky Derby has meant the world to Stevens.
His first victory at Churchill Downs aboard Winning Colors in 1988 opened up opportunities to mount seven more Triple Crown race winners, including two more in Kentucky. It earned him the role of personal jockey for an Arab emir and Queen Elizabeth II.
Fellow Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, 47, who will compete against Stevens Saturday aboard Palace Malice, said his friend is “as hungry as ever.”
“He’s riding better now than the past few years before he retired,” Smith said.
Riding as fast as possible in a crowded field slows down the world for Stevens. The 90-plus seconds around the oval are when life seems to make the most sense to him.
Here he can face the danger of being put to the ground, yet avoid tragedy and protect himself because he knows how to read horses. He can switch his whip hand, change the lead foot and control the action best to maximize his opportunity.
The thought of winning the Kentucky Derby has an articulate man, who until recently made his living as a professional commentator, struggle for full sentences to describe his reverence and desire for victory.
“I would rather just do analyst work, than to just ride in the Kentucky Derby,” Stevens said. He’s back in racing not just to ride, but to win. His preparation and decision will be tested. And Stevens will need some newfound Luck.