10/09/2014 2:17PM

Hovdey: Stevens takes up a bit on comeback trail

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Barbara D. Livingston
Gary Stevens recovery from knee-replacement surgery has gone well, but still needs some time before he begins his comeback in earnest.

There is a place called Garyland, sometimes known as Stevensville. Those who have been to Garyland never forget the experience. Those who have yet to visit are advised to pack light and keep the tank full.

Garyland has an elevation of 64 inches and a population of one. You will not find it on a map. Don’t trouble your GPS.

Atlantis, Shangri-la, Valhalla – at least those places makes sense. But Garyland? No, Garyland is a world unto itself. There are no borders and few limitations.

The flag of Garyland is a blood-red field upon which is displayed “911” in vibrant gold. The national anthem is “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” the long version, during which everyone must remain standing, whether their knees ache or not.

The mayor of Garyland is also its army, navy, and air force, and he has the battle scars to prove it, so many scars that he might as well be covered in zippers to make it easier on the surgeons.

The mayor is also Garyland’s main industry and chief export. Recently, there has been an interruption in the flow of goods from Garyland, owing to an orthopedic retooling of the main industry and chief export. But lately there were rumblings that the machine would be cranked up ahead of schedule, against all odds, and that the flag of Garyland would be flying high once again.

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:: Click here to purchase a copy of “Long Rein: Tales from the World of Horse Racing,” a collection of columns and features by Jay Hovdey

As everyone following the racing world knows, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens had his right knee replaced in an operation conducted last July 25 in a specialized clinic in Santa Monica, Calif. What they replaced it with has not been revealed. Educated guesses include the U-joint from a Patton tank, a piece of Stonehenge, or the petrified skull of Viking king Eric the Red.

After a month of pain Stevens would not have wished upon his worst enemy, or Angel Cordero in a tight finish, Gary’s new knee suddenly breathed a sigh of surrender and began to behave as originally advertised. His rehab sessions went from agonizing ordeals to encouraging exercises in comprehensive fitness. He walked without affect, tested his golf swing, and climbed stairs just for the fun of it.

It is a short drive from home to Santa Anita for Stevens, so when the track opened for training in early September he was on the scene with regularity, telling people there would be a comeback, sooner than later. Sooner, as in Oct. 31 or so, a date coincidentally falling on Day 1 of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Championships at Santa Anita Park.

Then he paid a visit to his doctor.

“I’ve been doing every normal activity I’d done in the past, except even better,” Stevens said earlier this week. “My doctor told me I was way ahead of schedule on everything and it looked great. Then I showed him a video of me on my Equicizer.”

The Equicizer, for those not into implements of physical torture, is an indispensible piece of equipment invented by former jockey Frank Lovato Jr. that lets a rider simulate the posture and physical intensity of finishing a race on the back of a Thoroughbred. Injured jockeys use it for rehab. Active jockeys use it for fitness and warm-ups. I used it once after a bottle of merlot and woke up in the backseat of my cousin’s station wagon. Never mind.

Gary’s doctor – the man who replaced the knee – was impressed but was not sure how to take the video. For Stevens, it was obvious.

“Can I get on horses tomorrow,” he asked.

The doctor took a step back.

“Yeah, sure,” he said – this is Gary’s version, of course. “Then we’ll see you back here in two weeks and be putting in a new knee. You want to do that again?”

It was a crushing blow, fed in part by the blessed relief from the arthritic pain that had plagued the famous Stevens knee for most of the past 25 years. The knee he rehabbed in more conventional fashion to stage a comeback, in 2013, after nearly seven years on the sidelines, carried him to a remarkable season climaxed by victories in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Mucho Macho Man and Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Beholder last fall.

The doctor’s declaration brought no joy to Garyland. He had spun a miracle before, at the age of 50, so why not another at age 51?

“I even had a couple of horses offered to me to ride in the Breeders’ Cup,” Stevens said. “It was a long drive home with my wife, Angie, and not much said. It made me take a pull back and think more like Richard Mandella does with his horses – what’s the rush?”

Part of the process of a knee replacement, at least in Stevens’s case, requires complete healing of the attached femur, the largest bone in the human body. The femur, no matter what, takes in this case about 12 weeks to heal, and without the full support of a healthy upper leg, an early return would be foolish, and futile.

“The adrenalin was really pumping, telling my body what I needed to do to make it back for the Breeders’ Cup, so there was a letdown physically as well as emotionally,” Stevens said. “I can go back to getting on horses if I want in a week to 10 days, and I’ll take things at my own speed. My go date is now Dec. 26.”

That happens to be opening day of the Santa Anita winter-spring meet, plenty of time to make plans for the next trip to Garyland.

 

Jason Landman More than 1 year ago
One of the most confusing pieces of journalism I've ever read. It's written in an inside joke like fashion that I'm not apart of. 6 paragraphs to get to the meat and potatoes of the story. Good grief. Thanks for the long winded explanation of Garyland and relaying the message that he's not coming back until 12/26 at the soonest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've followed Gary's career ever since his days at Longacres. While Gary was perfecting his craft as a rider, I was trying to do the same as a handicapper. He wasn't necessarily the best rider, but his drive and determination was unmatched. It seemed as though every time I thought he had no shot in a race, he would continue to prove me wrong. His competitive spirit and my inability to notice that trait early enough, kept many a janitor employed cleaning up after my mistakes. Knowing now what I wish I knew then, I will wish Gary a timely and healthy recovery. Based off of experience, i'm confident that the new GL will be better than ever, and that his burning desire to be the best may be stronger than ever. I look forward to his next mount that has no shot, so I can go to the windows for my return, while Gary's non believers keep the next track janitor employed.
Luke Vaughan More than 1 year ago
Cuidado brother ! Like I told you.......Luke M Vaughan MD ("Doc")
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
5th paragraph "he might as well be covered in zappers". so true Hovdey!
Eric Rickard More than 1 year ago
Love that he wants to return. I will be betting him. Sorry to say this but i trust a 51 year old jockey more than the present ones.
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
911? Withoug that being his birthday or bearing some other personal relevance to Gary, better that comparative reference not used in my opinion. Unless Raj Maragh had planted demolition charges in that knee; which even Fox News agreed seems to be the case in at least the toppled Building #7. Had me laughing and smiling otherwise. No disrespect intended. In the case of that day and the Master-jockey/percussionist's rehab, a parallel can be drawn for banging the drum slowly.
emilamok More than 1 year ago
Had to laugh when I saw someone say, "What's the rush? " Why don't they say that to the injured animal athletes? Routinely, they are pumped up with drugs and quickly put back on the track to run to their deaths. Stevens must be wondering what he could take with lasix that would make him race day fit. Good to wax poetic about Stevens. But Garyland? Talk more about Doug O'Neill-land. O'Nelll isn't the only one who has entry into that world. That's the dark side of racing DRF should be exposing to the public.
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
Settle down. Take the time to enjoy a few things while on hiatus from being such a d-bag. if there is such a moment. Learn to laugh.
Babygeorge123 More than 1 year ago
0 for 200? like some of the Jockeys at Finger lakes? sure they get paid for riding and Finishing last,,, but we forget Their names, already,
Betty Liz Drummond More than 1 year ago
Wonderful writing, Jay Hovdey! Gary is the BEST. And Angie and Maddie are pretty terrific, too! :) Hey, I think there is still a Triple Crown in you Gary! Have some fun with the family.
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
That's how to enjoy a fun article. Others should take from you a positive lesson in life.
Howard Schwartz More than 1 year ago
Gary you pay that Dr. good money. Please listen to him. You got the talent. An extra 60 days is not the end of the world. I said hello to you once at Pimlico. You were very nice. Get healthy, and show patience. My old pap use to say "Patience is a virtue I have no time for."