02/10/2013 9:30AM

Herb Stevens, trainer of Rockhill Native, dies at 96

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Herbert K. “Herb” Stevens, a longtime Kentucky-based trainer who guided Rockhill Native to an Eclipse Award as the top 2-year-old of 1979, died Saturday morning of a heart attack in a Lexington, Ky., hospital. He was 96.

Stevens, who long was admired for his work with young horses and was known as a consummate “Kentucky hardboot,” retired from training in 1996 after more than a half-century in the sport. His all-time stable star was Harry A. Oak’s Rockhill Native, the little gelding who was fifth as the 2-1 favorite in the 1980 Kentucky Derby and ran third in the Belmont Stakes five weeks later.

Chris Crowe, his assistant for 14 years, said: “You had to know the man to understand him. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the greatest guy who’s ever been in this game.”

The esteemed late racing author Jim Bolus once wrote of Stevens: “I’ve always said that if I ever owned racehorses, I’d like for Herb Stevens to be my trainer. They don’t come any better than this knowledgeable Kentucky hardboot.”

Stevens’s survivors include his wife, Lady Louise; his daughter, Patty; and his son Mike.

Funeral services and burial were scheduled for Tuesday at the Blackburn and Ward Funeral Home in Versailles, Ky., with visitation set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern.

The family has asked that memorial contributions be made to Old Friends or the Jockeys’ Guild.