08/20/2003 12:00AM

Feeling his brother's pain


DEL MAR, Calif. - When they were young, and moving too fast for anyone to notice, Scott Stevens and his little brother Gary could pass for each other, especially when it worked to their advantage. Mostly it did for Gary, who donned Scott's riding gear at the age of 14 and spent his summer mornings galloping horses at Les Bois Park in Idaho, unlicensed and fancy free.

For the first 20 years of his life, Gary patterned his every move after big brother Scott. In his autobiography, "The Perfect Ride," Gary made no bones about his filial devotion:

"Whatever Scott did, I wanted to do," Gary wrote. "And whatever he was good at, I wanted to be good at, too."

When Scott wrestled in high school, Gary wrestled. And when Scott started riding racehorses, Gary was bound to follow. For better or worse, the Stevens boys became professional jockeys, full-fledged members of a brotherhood defined by sacrifice and fraught with danger.

So it came to pass, decades down the road and a long way from Idaho, that Gary Stevens, 40, and Scott Stevens, 43, found themselves reporting for another afternoon of work last Saturday, not far from each other on the American racing map. Scott was at Canterbury Park, near Minneapolis, fulfilling his engagements as the meet's fifth leading rider, while Gary was at Arlington Park, just outside Chicago, to ride Storming Home in the Arlington Million.

Post time for the Million was 5:18 p.m., Central Daylight Time. Canterbury's last race of the day, a maiden claimer, was scheduled shortly thereafter, and Scott was named to ride. Officials at Canterbury were kind enough to allow their jockeys to watch the Million via simulcast before heading to the paddock.

"The simulcast picture stopped showing the race right at the wire," Scott said, recalling the sight of Storming Home veering wildly off course. "But I could tell. It looked like Gary was coming off. Then the camera showed the loose horse, and I had to go out and ride. I had no idea what might have happened to him."

Somehow, Scott put his head down and got through the race. How he kept his mind on business is anybody's guess.

"It's happened before," he said. "You always hope for the best and know it could be worse. I know it's my brother out there. I also know we're both doing what we love to do. And if it's your time, it's your time."

Fatalism can be sustaining, but Scott also needed answers. His initial call to Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights was met with an unexpected rebuff.

"I explained to them that my brother was in there," Scott said, "and they told me that I wasn't on the list of people they were letting through to him."

Scott laughed. It was the same sardonic, "Can you believe that?" kind of laugh that Gary uses to such good effect. Taking no offense, Scott called home and got the lowdown on Gary from their father, Ron.

"Later that night I found out they were putting the chest tube in him for the collapsed lung," Scott said. "My girlfriend is a respiratory therapist, so I'm pretty familiar with that procedure. I've never had to have it done, and from the sound of it I don't care to. At least I found out there was nothing life-threatening."

The Stevens brothers are among the most successful riding acts in U.S. racing history. Through last weekend, Gary had won 4,739 races during his Hall of Fame career, while Scott - a six-time champion at Turf Paradise and three-time leader at Canterbury - was at 3,156 and counting. On Saturday, at Northlands Park in Edmonton, he hopes to increase that total aboard Hero's Pleasure in the $150,000 Canadian Derby.

Scott has had his share of physical trauma, as well, although he was enjoying a career relatively free of major injuries until December of 2001, when he suffered a broken pelvis, clavicle, heel, and ribs in a fall at Turf Paradise.

Five months later he returned, only to go down again on Memorial Day of 2002 at Yavapai Downs in Arizona, fracturing two ribs in the process. He was sidelined the month of June, returned in July, and then was hurt again on Sept. 29, when a horse flipped in the gate at Turf Paradise and fractured two bones in his leg. On Feb. 14, 2003, Scott was back again, winning with his first ride at Turf Paradise.

None of Scott's injuries were greeted with the national media attention that accompanied Gary's accident at Arlington. Of course, Scott has yet to appear in a major motion picture for Universal Studios, although he has seen "Seabiscuit" twice, and plans to go again.

"Since the movie has come out, the one thing I'm asked a lot is if I'm proud of Gary," Scott said. "Well, I'm still more proud of him for what he's done on the racetrack. His fame may have risen to a higher level, but the things he's done on the track - I know how hard that work is.

"I might have showed him what to do," Scott added. "What he did after that, he did on his own."