07/29/2002 11:00PM

Knee pain sidelines Stevens

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Gary Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey who has been bothered by knee injuries in recent years, said on Tuesday he likely will miss the rest of the Del Mar meeting because of recurring soreness in his right knee, which he aggravated in a starting gate mishap over the weekend.

Stevens, 39, said he is scheduled to be evaluated on Thursday in Los Angeles by orthopedic specialist Dr. James Tibone, and the jockey said he likely would undergo a brief arthroscopic procedure at that time.

"I've got to let my knee cool down," Stevens said Tuesday morning while sitting outside Del Mar's track kitchen. "I tweaked it Saturday, I was uncomfortable with the first two horses I rode on Sunday, and then the last horse I rode on Sunday reared up in the gate. Once I've aggravated it, it needs time."

Stevens was forced to retire on Dec. 26, 1999, because of knee problems. He returned the following October, winning the 2000 Breeders' Cup Mile with War Chant and the 2001 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes with Point Given, the 2001 Horse of the Year.

"When I first came back, Dr. Tibone wanted me to ride at six- or seven-month intervals," Stevens said. "I've been riding for nearly two years straight now. It's hard to take off when people are counting on you, when you've got another big horse around the corner. Like this weekend with Macho Uno. I took off him because I didn't feel confident I could be 100 percent by the weekend, and that's not fair to them."

Stevens said he plans to return for Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. He stressed that this is a temporary break. "I'm not quitting or retiring," he said. "I'm just taking the time that is needed. If I keep going on, I'm going to be in pain, and I don't want to be in pain."

In the meantime, Stevens is in negotiations to play the part of George Woolf in a movie version of "Seabiscuit," based on the popular book. "I've received the script," Stevens said. "I like it. I like the part they want me to play. No contract has been signed yet. I'm supposed to have a meeting with the producers next week in Los Angeles."