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Article updated: 8/16/2013 11:19 PM

Jockey Stevens primed and ready for Million

By Mike Spellman

A Hall of Fame riding career.

A silky smooth segue into film and television.

A comeback at age 50 after seven years out of the saddle that has included a win aboard 15-1 longshot Oxbow in the Preakness -- the kind of stuff not even top Hollywood script writers could conjure up.

Face it: Gary Stevens is a star.

And with live mounts in all the big races on the Arlington Million Day card, Stevens' star may be shining even brighter come Saturday evening.

How does this guy do it?

"It's been beyond my wildest dreams," Stevens admitted on Million Eve. "You don't know when you start out in this career how things are going to go; you just hope you get the right opportunities.

"I felt very comfortable before I rode my first race back. I had a lot of confidence in my body and how I felt in the mornings. I've been through it before with comebacks and injuries that even though I felt good, I knew it was going to take some time to get my rhythm back and my timing.

"It happened quicker than I thought it would and the reason it has is because the caliber of horses that have been put my way."

And there's more where that came from on tap Saturday for Stevens, who already has a pair of Million and Beverly D. victories on his resume.

His mounts include Indy Point (9-2 morning-line) in the Million; Marketing Mix, the 2-1 favorite in the Beverly D and Draw Point (6-1) in the Secretariat.

Stevens is well aware big things will be expected of him.

He wouldn't want it any other way.

"You want the opportunity to ride in the big races," he said. "Anything can happen in these big races and we've proved that before (as witness the horrific spill involving Stevens and Storming Home in the 2003 Million) -- but when on paper you're riding legitimate contenders, yeah, there's a bit more added pressure, but that's what I thrive on."

It's that kind of internal fire that has propelled Stevens back to the top of his game since his return to the saddle in January, and the one thing many had questioned the moment he announced his return.

"The first week I was back I was like, 'No, I haven't lost the fire,'" he said. "Had I lost it I wouldn't still be going.

"I think I had lost a little of the fire when I retired. It wasn't just my knees. I'd been going a long, long time in this game."

But now that he's back, and despite being a little older and a little mellower, Stevens admits he occasionally can revert to what calls his old ornery self.

Occasionally.

"I'm very competitive and I'm my own worst critic," he said. "Sometimes the anger at myself is directed other people's way which isn't fair. But with age, I can dampen it a little bit, but it's still one of my weapons, one of my assets. I don't want to lose that fire."

That's just one aspect of his comeback, however. The other is that, according to many, Stevens is riding even better than he did pre-retirement, if that's even possible.

"Other racing analysts have commented on it; they think my reactions are better now than they were before and I won't disagree," he said. "They attribute that to the many races I've observed.

"I developed a lot of journalistic tools for preparing for television that I use now in racing. I watch a ton more videos of horses I'm going to ride or horses I'm going to run against then I ever did when I was riding before."

So, to summarize: the fire's back in a Hall of Fame rider who some feel is better than ever and certainly more prepared and has a handful of live mounts heading into Million Day.

Hmm, sounds like all the stars are aligned.

mspellman@dailyherald.com

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