Now is the time to buy potentially valuable thoroughbred race horses, says famous jockey turned trainer/owner Gary Stevens.
Stevens has eight Triple Crown victories to his credit as well as mounting more than 5,000 winners, pocketing the horses’ owners more than $221 million. He told owners and buyers at the annual summer yearling sale at Westerner Park on Monday to get involved.
The sale runs today following Monday’s preview parade.
“It’s a buyers market right now,” said Stevens during a luncheon address. “I’ve been going pretty hard now buying horses.”
He said great horses can be purchased for lower prices than they have been for 20 years.
“Horses have been overpriced,” said Stevens, who won three Kentucky Derbies as well as three Belmont Stakes and two Preakness Stakes.
“A lot of good horses are being offered at basement prices,” said the native of Boise, Idaho, who now lives in California where he trains race horses.
He said if a new buyer goes into the business alone, he runs the risk of buying that one horse on a budget of $10,000 or $15,000 and pins his hope on one animal.
Stevens said owners have a better chance of success if they buy six animals since one of them could turn out to be a winner.
“A good horse could come from anywhere whether it’s Red Deer or Boise,” said Stevens, who was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1997 and won the Eclipse Award as the United States’ top jockey in 1998.
He said owners need to “trust your gut.”
“Do your homework and don’t always go for what is fashionable.”
Before his luncheon address, Stevens said in an interview that he never dreamed of achieving the success he had when starting out as an eight-year-old groom for his father Ron.
“All I wanted to do was be leading jockey at Les Bois Park in Boise,” he joked. His goal was simply to beat his older brother Scott’s record of wins in Boise.
He learned much from his brother and rode his first winner on a horse that his brother didn’t want to ride.
Stevens moved at age 18 to learn more about the trade in Seattle.
Now 49, Stevens said he then drifted to northern California during the down time in Seattle.
However, he started winning and word got around that he was a jockey who would go the extra mile to take mounts in all types of weather.
And when he started winning in those tough races, the offers increased.
A nine-time winner of the prestigious Santa Anita Derby in Los Angeles, Stevens became the youngest jockey ever to surpass $100 million in winnings.
Breaking into the trade wasn’t a bed of roses, he said.
A degenerative hip disease forced him to wear a hip brace for 19 months at age seven.
And racing wasn’t without its injuries.
He’s had 14 knee surgeries, two reconstructive shoulder operations and almost lost his life in 2003 after crossing the finishing line to win a race only to have his horse startled and bolt. Another horse was bearing down on the fallen Stevens.
“The last thing I remember was seeing a hoof come at my face.”
That moment was captured by a Sports Illustrated magazine photographer.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is it. I’m done.’
“I thought of my mother, my wife and kids.”
After regaining consciousness in hospital, he learned that the horse struck one of his legs and spun him around like a helicopter.
“I ended up with a collapsed lung from spinning so quickly.”
He also suffered two hairline spinal breaks and an injured neck.
“After that I started thinking about my career and how many times I could dodge that bullet.”
So he called it a day.
His most memorable Triple Crown win was his first Kentucky Derby triumph aboard Winning Colors in 1988.
“With each one it became sweeter and then you want more.”
He said his favourite horse was Silver Charm, which won both the Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1997. He later rode Silver Charm to the winner’s circle in the richest prize race in the world, the Dubai Cup.
In addition to writing a book, Stevens also played an important acting role in the Academy Award-nominated movie Seabiscuit.
He portrayed George Woolf, who came on as a substitute jockey for the horse when its regular jockey, played by actor Tobey Maguire, was injured.