08/23/2004 11:00PM

Stevens California-bound


Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens said Tuesday that he is ending a five-month association with top French trainer Andre Fabre and will resume riding in California on Labor Day weekend.

Stevens, 41, admitted that he is homesick for California, and wants to pursue acting opportunities. Stevens, who played jockey George Woolf in "Seabiscuit" last year, plans to resume riding at Del Mar on Sept. 3.

Prior to Tuesday's announcement, Stevens was expected to stay in France through at least mid-October, following the prestigious races run at Longchamp in Paris in early October.

"I'm very homesick," he said. "I don't regret going to France at all. I rode for one of the best horsemen in the world."

Stevens's departure comes at the end of a disappointing span for the Fabre stable at the prestigious Deauville meeting in northern France. Fabre and Stevens failed to win on several short-priced contenders in major stakes.

"It's been a disappointing Deauville for the team," Stevens said.

Stevens denied rumors that he and Fabre were splitting on unfriendly terms. "There are a lot of rumors flying around Deauville," he said. "I'm riding for Andre next month in America."

Tuesday, Stevens rode Grey Lilas for Fabre to a victory in the Prix de la Nonette. Stevens described Grey Lilas as a contender for the Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita or the Flower Bowl Handicap at Belmont Park later this year.

Still, Stevens, who admits to speaking very little French, said the language barrier between him and Fabre created problems.

"There was a huge communication gap," he said. "Had we had proper communication, I don't know how much success we would have had."

The decision to return to California ends the second European tour of Stevens's career. In 1999, he rode for three months in England for Michael Stoute.

Stevens returned to the United States twice in the last five months, and wanted to spend more time here. He intended to ride at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby weekend but could not get away because of commitments in France.

Stevens's schedule was less cluttered two weeks later when he rode Rock Hard Ten to a second behind Smarty Jones in the Preakness Stakes on May 15.

In mid-July, Stevens was married in Long Beach, Calif. Agent Craig O'Bryan will continue to represent Stevens.