03/11/2004 12:00AM

Somebody get this guy an itinerary


ARCADIA, Calif. - He's tougher to pin down than water. His feet have that permanent itch. Just when you think he has settled in for the long haul, content with his current situation - poof! - the door is open and there's dust down the road.

Gary Stevens is on the move again.

Thanks to his work in "Seabiscuit," as the colorful George Woolf, Stevens has become America's most recognizable jockey. It won't be long, though, before Gary's American fans will have to be content with their "Seabiscuit" DVD (more than 5.5 million units sold) for a taste of their favorite rider.

By now, the story line is familiar. In 1995, Stevens was off to Hong Kong, mastering the exotic locales of Sha Tin and Happy Valley. In 1999, it was England, riding the historic courses of the British Isles for Sir Michael Stoute.

This time, he is answering the siren call of La Belle France. Commencing in early April, Stevens will be gainfully employed as the contract rider for Andre Fabre, the 17-time French champion trainer who gave Stevens his first Breeders' Cup win in 1990 with In the Wings.

Stevens and his fianc?e, Angie Athayde, will be living in Chantilly, five minutes from the Fabre stables, in a house owned by bloodstock agent Emmanuel de Seroux. In addition to his duties on the top-class Parisian circuit, Stevens plans to ride the great events of Europe when opportunities arise in England, Ireland, Italy, or Germany. Best of all, he'll be able to ride at a relatively comfortable 122 pounds, free from the demands of the lower American weight scales.

"You know me," Stevens said Thursday morning, after polishing off a worker at Hollywood Park. "I've liked my travels for a long time. It keeps me fresh, and I like to learn. Any day I don't learn something is a wasted day, even at this stage of my career.

"I've never won a European classic, and I'd like the opportunity to do that," he said. "Whether or not it can happen, I don't know. But at least this puts me in a position to do it, riding for Andre."

According to Stevens, Fabre first approached a considerably younger version of himself with an offer to ride the 1988 season in France. Stevens, 24 at the time, was blown away, but he respectfully declined. Then he went out and won the 1988 Kentucky Derby aboard Winning Colors.

"Some things happen for a reason," Stevens said. "Andre agreed."

And fate works in mysterious ways. Last summer, when Stevens was thrown and trampled near the end of the Arlington Million, he had to miss the mount on Candy Ride in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Julie Krone stepped in to win the race in Stevens's place, giving her husband (your faithful correspondent) something to write about for the next three weeks.

Stevens will fill in for the recuperating Krone aboard Halfbridled on Saturday, when the 2-year-old champion makes her 3-year-old debut in the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks. The opposition is headed by the unbeaten A.P. Adventure, who has already won the Las Virgenes and Santa Ysabel Stakes at the meet.

For Richard Mandella, Halfbridled's trainer, the choice of Stevens was a no-brainer. They collaborated mightily with handicap star Gentlemen, winner of the 1997 Pacific Classic and the Hollywood Gold Cup, and they nearly pulled off the upset of Cigar in the 1996 Dubai World Cup with Burt Bacharach's Soul of the Matter.

Stevens has yet to scale the imposing Halfbridled, but Mandella decided they needed no dress rehearsal.

"He told me I'd fit her fine," Stevens said. "Just take a long cross, let her go away from there. She worked a great mile the other day, so she's ready. I did go down to her stall to meet her, fed her a carrot, and talked to her a little. Although my voice is a little deeper than what she's used to."

Stevens celebrated his 41st birthday just last Saturday with a victory in the $350,000 Kilroe Mile on Sweet Return. This week he will be wrapping up business in California, then depart for for Dubai, where he will have several mounts on the March 27 international program, including Domestic Dispute in the $6 million Dubai World Cup. Then it will be on to France.

After that, no one would dare to predict. After all, this is the same Gary Stevens who, based on his positive experience with "Seabiscuit," was hoping to retire from riding to pursue a full-time career in acting. The same Gary Stevens who "retired" in late 1999, suffering from burnout and bad knees, only to return with a flourish to win the 2000 Breeders' Cup Mile on War Chant, then partner Point Given to Horse of the Year in 2001. And this is the same Gary Lynn Stevens, the pride of Caldwell, Idaho, who was 27 when he vowed to retire by the time he was 30. He laughed at the memory.

"Now I'm 41 and wishing I was 27 again," he said, "with another 20 years of riding ahead of me."