06/06/2013 2:36PM

Belmont Park: Bailey, Cordero admire comeback by Stevens

Barbara D. Livingston
Gary Stevens, victorious aboard Oxbow in the Preakness, has ridden 21 winners from 170 mounts since returning from his 2005 retirement.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Retired Hall of Fame jockeys Jerry Bailey and Angel Cordero Jr. were contemporaries of Gary Stevens and believe the fellow Hall of Famer is riding better now than when he did just before his retirement in 2005.

Stevens, 50, returned to the saddle in January, and three weeks ago he rode Oxbow to victory in the Preakness Stakes. Stevens will be aboard Oxbow again in Saturday’s 145th running of the Belmont Stakes, a race he has won three times.

[BELMONT STAKES: Live updates and video from Belmont Park]

“I think it’s amazing,” said Bailey, 55, who retired in January 2006. “If I was off for seven years and I was 50, I can’t imagine trying it, to be honest with you. I don’t think people realize that at that age, taking that much time off, what it takes to even get back to an acceptable level, let alone for him to ride at the highest level. I actually think he looks better now than the last year he rode.”

Stevens has ridden 21 winners from 170 mounts since returning.

Bailey, now a racing analyst for NBC Sports, said he never thought about trying to make a comeback.

“I missed it, I still miss winning, but I don’t miss all the other stuff,” Bailey said. “I didn’t gain a lot of weight, but I don’t think I could get those last three or four or five pounds off. I know my reflexes are not the same, not even close to good enough to do this.”

Cordero, 71, was forced to retire after a spill in 1992. Cordero did attempt a comeback, but it never took flight. He has been the agent for jockey John Velazquez for nearly two decades.

Cordero said this week he told Stevens “he’s riding better now than when he was young. He started laughing.”

Cordero said that the tangibles Stevens had as a rider during his prime are still evident today.

“He’s smart. Horses run for him. That doesn’t erase from your mind even when you’re old,” Cordero said. “He looks pretty fit on a horse. He’s doing a great job. He’s got everybody trying to make a comeback.”

Bailey said people underappreciated Stevens’ front-running tactics aboard Oxbow in the Preakness because he used the same tactics in the Derby where he chased a hot pace and finished sixth.

“The criticism he might have received had he not won being on the lead early is not to be underscored,” Bailey said. “Because it’s a tremendous amount of pressure to go ahead and do what feels right but what might be widely criticized if it doesn’t work out. The biggest thing he brought to the table was the experience and wisdom to do what was right regardless of what the criticism might be.”

Dave Schuler More than 1 year ago
Stevens Rides Better Than Than He Picks Horses On hrtv I Used To Do Pretty Good going against his Picks but he sure can ride-lolk-DS
Dave Schuler More than 1 year ago
Garret Gomez Comes Up With Surprise-??-lolk-DS
Steve More than 1 year ago
Nice article and high praise foe Gary. This is a very tough business, comebacks are very rare. Jerry Bailey would knock the Pope. Don't be fooled by his comments on TV, in reality he is rude and thinks his sheet doesn't stink. Cordero was a great rider and is a kind person away from the races but when it comes to business he would throw his Mother under a bus. Fact.
Eddie Lazaro More than 1 year ago
Love Gary and made quite a bit on his long shots. He is the guy that I will always feel sorry for not putting my two dollars on him or putting it on someone else. Win or loose, he always give his best. Nice that a couple of his associates giving him the praise he earned and deserved. OXBOW for WIN/PLACE. OXBOW, ORB, WILL TAKE CHARGE, PALACE MALICE tri/super .
Union_Rags More than 1 year ago
Good to hear from you 2.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Saw Jockey Bailey's breakout when he rode for a young Trainer, Billy Mott. Man, those two covered alotta racetrack. And Angel, the best Gate Rider I ever saw. Ever. And !Jinente Primero! tambien.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
High praise from two people who are both friends and former rivals. Gary should be very proud of their high regard for him & his efforts in his comeback. Lifelong fans, like me, are thrilled for Gary as well as proud of his comeback. It's wonderful to have Gary back in the irons, winning meaningful races again. Watching a master of their craft applying their craft in the field is always fun to watch.
Justin More than 1 year ago
Just fodder for a story. He may be riding better than in 2005 but that year his knees were excruiciating painful..
Tom More than 1 year ago
Yeah Stevens is riding great, 3 or 4 winners in the last 7 weeks who could ask for more.
Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
tom,...you been chasing ? sounds like it....but all kidding aside....50 yrs old and riding and winning in grd 1 races.....you must be a young fella...lmao
thompson everell More than 1 year ago
Respect to Mr. Stevens for the expert ride on Ox. Respect for what he's done for the sport. The confidence and skill he displayed in the Preakness goes down in memory for me personally; that being said, I'm with Mr. Tom. I have played Mr. Stevens dozens of times and each of those times, he wasn't even close. Of course a great deal of those mounts were lower class races, but a fair amount of them were also runners who on paper, figured. I'm just an avid horse player so you will hear no bad talk of Stevens from me, but I understand Tom's point 100%
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
Exactly Thompson.........because it couldn't be bad handicapping