03/22/2007 12:00AM

Stevens attempts double duty


ARCADIA, Calif. - In describing the investment required for his job as a jockey's agent, the blissfully profane Pete Wilson, now departed, boiled the gig down to its bedrock essentials: "You can get a pencil for a nickel," Wilson said. "The condition book is free."

Wilson hustled mounts for Bill Hartack, among others, so he knew how the game was played. The profession requires licensing, but no formal training, and just about anyone can call himself a jockey's agent if he finds a jockey willing to go along with the story. In terms of basics, all a person really needs is a thick skin and a sense of humor, in addition to the nickel pencil, although it does help to have at least an occasional flash of F. Scott Fitzgerald's definition of "a first-rate intelligence," to wit: "The ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

(An example of this would be taking two calls in a race, spinning one trainer for the other, and then doing business with him that was just spun as if nothing had ever happened. Go ahead, try it. Ain't easy.)

There are no plans for a wing in the racing Hall of Fame dedicated to the greatest jockey agents of all time - mutuel clerks have a better shot - but if there were, the names in contention would include such everlasting entertainers as Lenny Goodman, Colin Wick, Harry Silbert, George Hollander, Bones LaBoyne, Chick McClellan, and Vince DeGregory.

Gary Stevens, who was a steady employer of agents through a Hall of Fame riding career of 5,005 wins and $220 million in purses, now bids to join the brotherhood as authorized representative of California-based Corey Nakatani, fifth in the national standings with more than $2.7 million in purses so far this year.

The first fruits of the Nakatani-Stevens collaboration will be on display this weekend at Santa Anita. Stevens is quick to point out that any credit for Nakatani's mount in the $200,000 San Luis Rey Stakes, Prospect Park, will go to his previous agent, Tom Knust. Stevens is predicting that the first win in his column could come in Saturday's nightcap with the maiden 3-year-old, Hurry Home Warren.

At first glance, the Stevens-Nakatani partnership seems like some kind of wild Hollywood movie pitch. Forget about good cop/bad cop. Picture Sean Penn and Leo DiCaprio, both wild cops, screaming at lowlifes and each other for two solid hours.

While the epitome of cool in the saddle, Stevens could be a ferocious battler on the ground, and in his younger days he was fined accordingly. Likewise, Nakatani has been plagued by bouts of temper, fueled by a thinly-veiled contempt for some of his fellow riders that he has carried inappropriately onto the field. There was even a fist-flailing encounter in the distant past between the two, when Stevens was a young star on the rise and Nakatani was a raw rookie.

"He was great to ride with, and a great competitor," said Stevens, who retired in November 2005 at age 42. "Personality-wise, we actually have a lot in common. Sometimes I had a hard time leaving things indoors, and I'd go out with an attitude. And nobody wants to see or hear that kind of thing."

At 36, Nakatani has all the tools to accomplish even more than his record of 3,121 wins and purses of $176 million imply. He has seven Breeders' Cup wins, two victories in the Kentucky Oaks, and two in the Beverly D. among his numerous big race accomplishments, and his work over the last 15 months with Lava Man has helped transform the gelding into a California superstar.

To his credit, Nakatani has been experimenting with a more mellow attitude recently. So far, the public results have been encouraging. Stevens insists that maturity will be the key to unlocking Nakatani's ultimate potential.

"I'm not going to try and change Corey's personality - I don't think you can," Stevens said. "My job is to put him in the right spots, and to be the buffer. I want to share things that I experienced with him, and a lot of it was how I was managed, what it did to me mentally, and how I changed for the better as a jockey as I had pressures taken off me.

"The biggest thing is making myself accessible and keeping Corey on an even keel, making sure he stays fresh for the races," Stevens added.

Stevens will continue to work as on-air analyst for TVG, as well as NBC, while handling Nakatani's business. The perception of a conflict of interest looms large - especially when trying to pick winners or criticize riders - but Stevens is determined to play it straight.

"One thing I will not be able to do on TVG is try to make selections, because that would be a conflict," Stevens said. "And when it comes to comments after races, if I don't have something good to say I try not to say it anyway.

"But if it's something obvious that needs to be pointed out, I've got to say it," he added. "And if it's my jock who screws up, it's my job to talk about what happened and why. I'm going to tell him to just hit the mute button if he's watching in the room."