Racing: Stevens ready to adapt to the beat

America's champion jockey begins his Epsom quest with a word from a maestro. By Richard Edmondson
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GARY STEVENS, America's champion jockey, acquainted himself with Epsom and its greatest exponent yesterday ahead of his ride on the Derby second favourite Beat All on Saturday.

Stevens, who accumulated earnings of $19,358,840 from his 178 winners in the United States last year, took in the intricacies of the Surrey switchback and Tattenham Corner, as well as the less complex advice of Lester Piggott. "He told me that if I'm riding the best horse I'll win," Stevens reported. "At least I think that's what he said."

The man from Caldwell, Idaho, is not here on a glory mission. The 36- year-old hopes to win on Beat All, but then he aims to be riding winners here for another decade. An invitation from Michael Stoute, Beat All's trainer, to ride his horses means that his new career is hardly built on shifting sands. "I've come over here for the long haul and it won't be just one season," Stevens said. "I think I've got to allow for at least a second season before I judge whether it's a success or a failure.

"Ideally I would like to close out my career here and whether that's five years from now or 10 years from now I don't know. I'm going to ride for as long as I can if I know I'm contributing to a horse and not being a hindrance."

There are precedents which suggest that Stevens can excel here. From Tod Sloan to Steve Cauthen, American jockeys have been able to adapt their styles over the different contours and directions of British racing. Stevens will get the horses to ride, but he is aware that there are detractors waiting to burst down the door. Men armed with pens and men armed with whips.

The Frenchmen Olivier Peslier and Gerald Mosse are already mopping up good rides within these shores and the thought of another foreigner taking promising mounts does not sit kindly with some in the weighing-room. Not everyone in the changing quarters will be lending Stevens their shampoo.

"The Americans don't like our style of riding and they say we move about on a horse too much, but they'll soon get a shock when Gary Stevens comes over here," one rider said. "He'll get top rides from Stoute, Cecil and Godolphin and they'll soon realise how ordinary he is.

"The Americans' style suits their flat tracks and going the same way round. That's easy. You can ride the same race day in, day out. You can't ride the same race at Epsom that you can at York, the same race at Ascot that you ride at Catterick.

"Our racing is totally different and you have to adapt yourself to that. The races are not run at the same pace. I don't even think that Gary Stevens is that great a jockey in America. So he's certainly not going to be that great over here."

Stevens has yet to suffer colleagues hiding his underpants, but recognises he will have to change some attitudes. "I don't feel a lot of resentment at the moment," he said. "Perhaps that will change later on. But you have to understand that I'm not coming in here expecting to become leading rider of England. Right now I just want to come here and be competitive and be consistent and do what I do best - go out and ride hard every single day and in every single race, give it my all.

"I don't think anyone can be resentful or jealous of that. I haven't come over here to take anyone's job.

"I know I'm going to have my critics if Beat All doesn't win or doesn't perform well, but it's my performance that matters to me. I've been under the gun a lot over the past 15 years riding the big events so the pressure is not new to me. I'm looking forward to it."

The American beat no longer has that same effect on Stevens. Since he rode here at Royal Ascot two years ago the British buzz has been with him and the fact that his wife hails from Doncaster was hardly an impediment to emigration. And, in recent months, the jockey felt instinctively he needed to move from his Californian base. The LA story was over. "To be honest, I was bored with American racing," he said. "Turning left every day for 20 years.

"At this stage in my career I was riding just about the best horses in the United States and, a lot of the time, I felt the postman could have ridden them and got the job done. I hadn't been getting the thrill.

"In 1997 when I was here for Royal Ascot it is obvious that something caught my eye. The racing here is so competitive and, on the big day, I don't think you find any better racehorses throughout the world than are here in England.

"That's what I'm looking for. I want to sit on the good horses and ride with the best riders throughout the world. It seems the racing here has drawn the best. It's pretty much turned into a melting pot here on the big day.

"I've come to ride hard and learn some new things and I'm aware there are going to be some major adjustments for me in the new courses."

Gary Stevens will also have to adjust to the new look on his bank statements. He will not be in penury in Britain, but it might seem like that when you consider he passed the $100m mark in American earnings six years ago. "I would anticipate a slight pay cut but this isn't about money right now," he said. "This is about the sport and the new challenges."