This was supposed to happen, Gary Stevens said. So it makes sense that Stevens didn't act giddy after he'd ridden Point Given to victory in the Preakness yesterday.
Instead, the 38-year-old jockey spoke calmly and sipped on a beer while attendants in the barn removed his silks - caked with dirt that covered green and white stripes - so they could be shipped back to his home in California.
It was Stevens' first Triple Crown victory since returning from knee injuries that forced him to retire for 10 months. For that matter, he hadn't won a Triple Crown race since riding Victory Gallop to victory in the 1998 Belmont, a long interval for someone who collected five of the elite race wins from 1995 to 1998.
He's won seven Triple Crown races now, including a Preakness on Silver Charm in 1997. And Stevens managed to win despite struggling to get his horse on the right foot in the closing stretch of the race. But while the rider displayed some happiness, it wasn't as if he'd just won the lottery.
"In some Triple Crowns, there's some surprise," Stevens said. "But there was no surprise, and maybe a little disappointment about the Derby, a little disappointment that America doesn't have a horse going for the Triple Crown."
Two weekends ago in Louisville, Point Given was supposed to carry Stevens to victory at the Kentucky Derby with ease. Not only did that not happen, but he and the colt also didn't come close, finishing fifth.
Stevens and trainer Bob Baffert took a lot of heat for Point Given's loss - "He just didn't show up for some reason," both said several times yesterday - and the owner, Prince Ahmed Salman, suggested that they keep the horse back a little bit at Pimlico.
Stevens sent Point Given out quickly at Churchill Downs; he wanted to get the horse to the inside as quickly as possible. Instead, he got caught up in the pace and ran out of gas at the end as Monarchos won.
Stevens took Prince Ahmed's advice for the Preakness. "He understands about strategy," Stevens said. "We spoke at length and then yesterday by phone. It worked out, and I'll be asking for his input for the Belmont."
After nearly a year of working as an apprentice trainer for the Prince Ahmed-run Thoroughbred Corp. at Del Mar and Santa Anita racetracks, Stevens returned to racing last October, feeling "I'm as good as anyone there is."
He wasn't in good cardiovascular shape in the beginning, but won one race and finished second in two others at the Breeders' Cup, paving the way for his ride on Point Given.
"I was very honored when I got the chance to ride him," said Stevens, who has revived his career by riding fewer races and predicts he could ride five more years. "That gave me a lot of confidence that I was back."
2nd for Stevens
Jockey Gary Stevens' Preakness victory yesterday was his second in 12 tries. His horses have finished third or better eight times:
Year Horse Finish
1987 Lookinforthebigone 7th
1988 Winning Colors 3rd
1990 Mr. Frisky 3rd
1991 Best Pal 5th
1992 Casual Lies 3rd
1993 Personal Hope 4th
1995 Thunder Gulch 3rd
1996 Editor's Note 3rd
1997 Silver Charm 1st
1998 Victory Gallop 2nd
1999 Stephen Got Even 4th
2001 Point Given 1st