Everyone that enjoys watching the ponies has a favorite rider. Or it may be the one who just walked into the winner’s circle with your big score. For me, it is hands down just one rider, and Christmas may have came early for this punter.
When I was reading a DRF article about Gary Stevens sequestering himself in Washington state. I thought he may be running from the law, or starring in a new movie. But not the case for my favorite rider. He has been training, seeing a nutritionist, and getting on horses at Pegasus Training and Equine Rehabilitation Center. He said, “I’m fitter than the day I quit riding.” For my ears, this was magic from a man who made riding look natural and winning look easy.
It is hard to believe the HRTV analyst, and all-around good guy, is turning 50-yrs-old. When he played George Woolf in Seabiscuit I teared at the corner of my eyes. He was a natural, and I thought we may have the next Brad Pitt on the brew. Stevens has never failed to amaze me.
When Winning Colors cruised for home to win the Derby, how Thunder Gulch found that blast of energy to propell past the field, and how he got busy down the lane on Silver Charm still gives me chills. But I do have a bone or two to pick. But that is the nature of all horse players. What happened in the Arlington Million with Storming Home? I thought it was a “put the whip away and cruise home ride,” but when you came flying off there was a deafening silence that hushed the crowd. My favorite rider was on the ground, and there was more to worry about than my wagers. That gave me my first grey hair on my noggin. The second runner that still has me scratching my head is Point Given. I fell in love with him as a baby at Turfway Park, and he immediately became my Derby horse. The track was hard, and the fractions were salty at Churchill. I still think if we ran the race 10 times, you would have won the other nine. But they only run it once, and as the old saying goes, “the best horse does not always win the Derby.” But after the many victories, accolades, and great accomplishments if I can only complain twice, well, it probably means that you were my favorite rider.
Just to think that you tossed around the idea of coming back brought a smile to my face. It takes me back to when I was 18-yrs-old, and worked in valet parking. I had the honor of driving my favorite rider to the airport. When you put your golf clubs in the back of my truck and offered me a beer from the golf bag. I knew you were just a regular guy with extraordinary skills. That was the best time spent in traffic for a kid who loved racing. Whether or not you return to the saddle is your family decision. But if my vote counts, come on back “Magic Man.” The fans would love to see you back in the saddle, and the other riders would probably wish you were out playing golf.