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Comeback King Stevens Rides Favored Enterprising In El Camino Real Derby
Gary Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey who came out of retirement in 2013 and enjoyed a banner year, will be at Golden Gate Fields Saturday to ride 5-2 morning line favorite Enterprising in the Grade 3 $200,000 El Camino Real Derby.
The El Camino Real Derby, a 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds, is Northern California’s official prep for the Kentucky Derby. The eighth event on a nine-race program that begins at 12:45 p.m., the El Camino Real Derby will be run at approximately 4:42 p.m. and be televised live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
Gates at Golden Gate Fields open at 10 a.m. and fans attending the track will receive a free El Camino Real Derby baseball cap.
Stevens returned to the saddle after a seven-year absence to win 18 graded stakes last year, including the Preakness with Oxbow and the Breeders' Cup Classic with Mucho Macho Man. His mounts earned $11,910,748 in purses, which ranked him12th in the nation.
Steven said chronic knee problems and “major burnout” prompted him to retire following his 2005 racing season.
“I was riding with a lot of pain and had an opportunity to work with NBC Sports (as a horse racing analyst), TVG (Television Games Network) and from there I went on to HRTV (The Network For Horse Sports),” said Stevens.
Stevens, who made a successful acting debut when he portrayed George Woolf in the 2003 film Seabiscuit, was a regular cast member on the HBO television series Luck, which premiered in January 2012 and came to an abrupt end in March 2012 due to animal safety concerns.
“After the cancellation of Luck and doing television for seven years, I felt like I needed to get back into what I loved,” said Stevens of his decision to return to race riding. “Hopefully I will do some acting again at some point in time. It’s very difficult to do them both (act and ride) at the same time. They both require 100 percent focus.”
Stevens, age 49 when he rode his first race back on the comeback trail, had to train hard for his return to the races.
“As for the comeback, it was grueling and it was hard,” said Stevens. “The older you get the more the body wants to slow down, and the harder you have to work it to keep it in tip top shape.”
Stevens said his terrific comeback year couldn’t have been predicted.
“I didn’t really have expectations,” said Stevens. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what the reception was going to be. I just wanted to come back and hopefully be as consistent as I had been throughout my career. If I wasn’t (competitive), I didn’t want to embarrass myself either. I had a lot to lose, and also a lot to gain, I guess. To get back to the level we’ve been able to get back to, is very, very pleasing. It’s beyond my wildest dreams to be honest with you.”
Stevens rode Enterprising in his first three races but wasn’t aboard the colt when he finished second in the California Derby on Jan. 18 at Golden Gate Fields. Jockey Aaron Gryder filled in for Stevens, who was at Gulfstream Park in Florida that day to ride Mucho Macho Man in the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic. Mucho Macho Man and Stevens scored by 14 lengths.
Stevens said Enterprising has been training well for the El Camino Real Derby.
“My colt came out of (the California Derby) well and looks great on the racetrack,” said Stevens, who escorted Enterprising through a solid five-furlong workout in 1:00 3/5 handily last Saturday at Santa Anita. “The way he worked the other day, we’re expecting a big run from him Saturday. He’s going the right direction.”
Enterprising, trained by Tom Proctor, entered the California Derby off a sharp victory in the Eddie Logan Stakes on the turf at Santa Anita and has two wins and a second in four career starts. A Florida-bred son of Elusive Quality, Enterprising races for his breeder, Glen Hill Farm.
Enterprising will be Stevens’ first mount at Golden Gate Fields since May 23, 1998, when he guided Hawksley Hill to victory in the Grade 2 San Francisco Mile.
“I’m excited,” said Stevens. “I’ve always loved San Francisco and Golden Gate Fields is a great place. To get to go back up there after so many years, it’s pretty exciting.”