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Q&A: Scott Stevens
Veteran jockey, he won his 4,000th Thoroughbred race on March 18 at Turf Paradise. He is the older brother of Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens.
Birthdate: Oct. 6, 1960, in Caldwell, Idaho
Family: partner, Pam; son, Jake; daughter, Jessica
Got into racing because . . . "of my dad, Ron, who is a trainer. We always had horses in our backyard, and he raced horses. I honestly don't believe growing up I wanted to do anything but be a jockey. I lied about my age and started riding when I was 15 because I was afraid I was going to get too big, and I wanted to ride. I put down I was born in 1959. I had a fake ID. They caught me after five years and after I had ridden in four states. I was caught in Idaho. I got fined $500 and got a year's probation."
How gratifying was it to win your 4,000th Thoroughbred race? "It was kind of awkward when they told me, because I told them I had already won 4,000 races, counting other breeds. But the way it worked out was great. I rode Miguel Silva's horse when I got hurt last year, my first ride back was for a horse he trained, and that horse won, and he trained the 4,000th winner, so that made it extra special. When I got hurt last year, he would spend three or four hours at the hospital every single day, when no one could get in to see me. That says a lot about him."
How many other races have you won with Quarter Horses, etc.? "I've won 440 Quarter Horse races. Last summer at Canterbury, I rode four and won three. I'm very selective when I ride them. I love to ride them, but they hurt my knee pretty bad. I've won a couple of Arab races, too, and won some mixed-breed races, Thoroughbreds running against Quarter Horses."
As you mentioned, last July you had a horrible accident at Canterbury Park. What was the extent of your injuries? "I broke both collarbones, and what they said were 'more than eight and less than 22' ribs. They were broken in multiple places on one side, and loose. I broke my sternum, both lungs collapsed, there was a small tear in my spleen, and nerve damage to my fingers, which still lingers. I had complete numbness in the pinky and the finger next to it on both hands. The feeling has come back completely on my left hand, but on my right hand, the pinky is still numb. I think I did something to my elbow, where the nerves go through. I can bend and grip, but I can't feel. I was in the hospital for nine days, the first three in ICU. Pam is a respiratory therapist. She was at the track that day. She saved my life. I could not breathe. I was making gurgling sounds. Blood was running out of me. The EMTs were trying to get me on my back because they wanted to be careful with my spine, but I told them not to put me on my back because I was afraid I was going to drown. I stayed on my side. I called her over and told her I was going to die. I told her to tell my kids I loved them. It still bothers me to talk about it. She told the EMTs to decompress my chest. By then, the helicopter had arrived. I told the guy on the helicopter, 'I don't want to die.' He said, 'We're doing our best.' That wasn't as reassuring as I would have liked."
I've read that you felt the EMTs saved your life: "The EMTs on track, as soon as they got to me, they called for the helicopter, which was key. The trauma center is 27 miles away. It took eight minutes to get there. The accident happened at the quarter pole on the main track. They carried me over to the turf course, where the helicopter had landed, and took me away. The helicopter was at the track in 10 minutes. All that was critical. There were three of us in the accident, and later on they had a fund-raiser for us at Canterbury. I knew I had a lot of friends, but the amount of cards and the generosity from fans and trainers and horsemen was overwhelming."
How hard was it for you to come back from that accident? "I started rehab when I got back here to Phoenix. The accident happened on July 2, but I couldn't come back to Phoenix until the end of August. I couldn't pick anything up, and I couldn't sleep for two months because I couldn't get comfortable. The nerves in my arm would tense up. I was miserable. The first part of September, I went to the doctors here, and they said you're going to heal up. Once I heard that, I was ready to go. My chest is pretty deformed. My sternum is off to the right side, quite a ways off. It scared me when I got out of the hospital. I looked in the mirror and said, 'That can't be me.' They had me do a lot of Pilates to get in shape."
It's not as if that's the only time you've had a serious accident. In 2001, you broke your pelvis, then in 2002 you broke your right leg. What do you remember about coming back from those injuries? "My pelvis I broke in six places, and I broke my heel in that accident. That one, laying on the racetrack, I questioned whether I'd ride again. I never went through pain like that in my lifetime. And then in 2008, I had a horse go wrong on the turf course. It was a suspensory injury. I was holding him. The vet gave the horse a tranquilizer, then went to put a brace on the horse's leg. Instead of starting at the bottom, the vet tried to fasten the first strap by the knee. Well, the horse went to rearing and striking, the brace got loose, and he clocked me on the side of the knee. I had a complete rupture of the ACL [anterior cruciate ligament].
That happened in July. I was riding Atta Boy Roy at the time. I put a brace on that thing and rode him the last week before I had surgery. They put a cadaver ACL in. I got an infection from it in November of 2008 and was off for eight months. My knee doesn't bend like it used to. I don't know how those football players come back from an ACL and play. The time off from my injury last year helped with my knee, though."
Despite all that, you keep going. What do you love most about race riding? "How do I answer that? Right now, I feel like I'm semi-retired. The people I ride for, they're the greatest in world. They understand the situation, that I don't want to ride a lot of horses, just the best possible. I want to make a good living. I still feel I'm as aggressive as I've ever been. That's the drive I have. I love to win races. I love being in the jocks' room. When Gary rode in the Legends race at Santa Anita a couple of years ago, I saw Eddie Delahoussaye in the grandstand. He said he'd be out there in a heartbeat if he could. We all feel that way. I want to quit on my own terms, and obviously, those times weren't."
Your younger brother Gary has always given you credit for getting him started and giving him guidance. How gratifying is it for you to see the kind of career he had? "I'm so proud of him and still am with all that he's doing. He always gives me credit, but he had more natural talent than anyone I've ever seen. And the determination he had, there's not too many people around like that. He thought he could win every time he went out there."
Gary has done a little bit of everything since retiring, from training to being a jock's agent and now as a successful television analyst. What do you want to do when you retire? "It'll be something to do with the racetrack, whether trainer or an assistant trainer. People ask me about being a steward. I'd love to be one for the racing aspect, but the rest of it, I don't know, dealing with medication and things like that."
Biggest race won? "The biggest purses I won were $125,000, including the Phoenix Gold Cup in 1997 with Rotsaluck. I've also won the Sooner Derby Challenge, the California Breeders' Champion Stakes -- the filly division -- at Santa Anita, the Lady Canterbury, two Manitoba Derbies up in Winnipeg, and the Hinds Invitational at Fairplex in Pomona."
Best horses ridden? "Real Quiet and Great Communicator. Great Communicator I rode in the 1986-87 season at Santa Anita, a year and a half before he won the Breeders' Cup with Ray Sibille. I won quite a few races on him. He could run further at full speed than any horse I ever rode. Real Quiet I rode three times as a 2-year-old, including the Indian Nations Futurity at Santa Fe, and a maiden race at Del Mar going a mile. I'm the one who told Bob Baffert to put blinkers on him. He gave me credit in his book. I had no idea Real Quit would end up coming close to winning the Triple Crown. At the time, he was just a big, skinny kid. They called him The Fish."
Best horse seen? "I'd have to say Secretariat. I remember him on TV. In person, Alysheba. He was game."
Hobbies? "I like to build things. If I can make something I like to do it, from furniture to fixing things. I've got a boat and two dogs. When I have a day off, I mess around with them or I go with Pam to the movies."
Future ambitions? "On the racetrack, I feel like I've accomplished everything I wanted to do. People ask if I'm going to go for 5,000, but I know that's out of reach. Right now I'm having the best meet, percentage-wise, I've ever have. I just hope to continue. I'll go back to Canterbury this summer, then come back here and see what happens. If the day comes when I don't feel like doing it, when it feels like a job, I'll go out gracefully and be proud of what I did."