Racing: Europe next as Stevens hopes for Grand Slam

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The world's richest race meeting, Breeders' Cup XIV at Hollywood Park today, provides a platform for Gary Stevens to advertise his talents to a global audience. Richard Edmondson, in Los Angeles, meets America's leading jockey as he prepares to follow Steve Cauthen's career path to Britain.

He has won before The Queen and now Gary Stevens would like to perform regularly before the country.

The man from Idaho, a victor at Royal Ascot on Predappio, has charmed and impressed audiences in America since his first victory in 1979. Now he would like to emulate his countryman Steve Cauthen and bring the same qualities to bear over the Pond. "If I get the right opportunity, I would do it in a heartbeat," he said in California this week. "At this point in my career I figure I've got another 10 years riding to go and I feel I would like to spend two years or so riding in Europe.

"Ascot was one of the highlights of my year. Beating Pilsudski on Predappio felt like paying back a little bit for being defeated by him when I rode Singspiel in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf. I'd like to go back and ride Royal Ascot every year. It's much more exciting than racing here in America, where all the tracks are the same.

"There's a lot more decision-making to be made in English racing. You're using your head a lot more than we have to here. Travelling all over the world and riding against the best jockeys has definitely helped my career. I'm a firm believer that I have to learn something different every day I ride. The time I stop doing that is the time to retire."

Gary Stevens is a man crossed by God only on his scalp. His deep blue eyes and perfectly arranged teeth are compromised only by the tide going out with his hair. This week he has been wearing jeans and cowboy boots at the track and the effect has been of a western movie star of old.

He may have the looks of someone at the studios down the road, but Stevens has also suffered from the intermittent natural catastrophes this neighbourhood attracts. It is certainly true that Stevens's best mounts this season will not be on Hollywood Park's circuit today but in the infirmary. Michael Tabor's Marlin, who would have been a hot shot for the Turf, sustained a career-ending injury at Santa Anita, while Gentlemen sweated away his chance of winning the Classic with a fever. He was the only horse in the Americas who came close to filling the chasm left by Cigar.

"When it comes to the Breeders' Cup you learn to hope for the best and expect the worst," Stevens said. "Until they lead them over there on the day of the race things can change. We've lost the favourite in the Classic. I rest my case.

Stevens's best opportunity in taking a leading position on the rostrum today lies with Grand Slam in the Juvenile. This is also a contest which might make a fool of his judgement as he has turned down the ride on another fancied runner, Souvenir Copy. "They're as good as any two-year-olds I've ridden in my career and, unfortunately, they came up at the same time," he said. "I was in a no-win situation because I ride a lot for both stables and somebody's going to be unhappy.

"Grand Slam's my one legitimate shot. Other than that I feel like I'm in Las Vegas at a craps table rolling the dice and hoping I get lucky."

Today may be unpromising but in his career Stevens has achieved more than a man can expect. There have been three winning rides in the Kentucky Derby, riding championships in southern California counted until he has started to run out of fingers and a recent induction into racing's Hall of Fame.

On 57 Breeders' Cup mounts, Stevens has accumulated four wins, 10 seconds and seven thirds, and while the garlands have not been making a floral noose around his neck on a regular basis he rejects the idea that his series achievements are a cause for blushing. "I'm not ashamed of my record at all," he said. "If you go back and study the Breeders' Cup, you'll see I've had a tremendous amount of seconds and thirds. And then look at the odds of those horses and you'll see that many of them weren't standouts. I feel I've been successful.

"If you look at the record, I've often got a piece of the pie. If I come away with some prize money, the people I'm riding for will be very happy. Seconds and thirds also count.

"That's one of the things about the Breeders' Cup. Anyone who brings a horse - with the exception of that crazy guy last year with Ricks Natural Star - are not just taking a shot in the dark. Most of the horses have been focussing for this one special day all year long."

The Breeders' Cup then may not accelerate to Stevens's claims for an Eclipse Award, but he may already be past the finishing line. "I have a hell of a shot at an Eclipse," he said. "It's been a huge year. I won two legs of the Triple Crown, underwent arthroscopic surgery on my knee, came back and won several Grade Ones." Now he wants to do it all over again in front of a different audience.

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