11/25/2005 12:00AM

Stevens calls it a career

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens officially announced his retirement Friday, saying it was "time to hang it up" and there is no chance he will change his mind as he did following his first retirement.

At a 25-minute press conference at Churchill Downs, where he won three runnings of the Kentucky Derby, Stevens said he had grown extremely weary of fighting his weight and that other key issues had factored into his decision to quit riding. He also said he learned valuable lessons from when he retired in late 1999 for a duration of only 10 months.

"I wasn't prepared for that retirement," said Stevens, 42. "It happened very suddenly. This time, I know what to expect. I know what I'm going to do.

"Beginning in January, Stevens will become an analyst and commentator for Television Games Network. He also hinted that he might also work for a network that broadcasts major racing events.

"I can't say anything about it, but as everyone knows, whenever there's a rumor on the racetrack, it's usually true," he said.

Stevens was momentarily overcome with emotion when asked to name his single greatest thrill in a fabulous career that began on May 16, 1979, when he won with his first mount, Lil Star, at Les Bois Park.

"Crossing under the Twin Spires on Winning Colors in 1988," he said haltingly while choking back tears. "I have a lot of fond memories that will never go away.

"He said the "closest I ever came to a perfect ride" was his narrow triumph aboard Victory Gallop in the 1999 Belmont Stakes, the race that foiled the Triple Crown bid of Real Quiet. "That's the one I'd say I made all the right moves."

Stevens won 8 Triple Crown races, 8 Breeders' Cup races, a record 9 Santa Anita Derbys, and was just 34 when inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. He said he wants fans and other jockeys to remember him for his "competitive spirit" and as someone who was "consistent, patient, and prepared to ride every day."

"I'd like to think you got your money's worth when you rode Gary Stevens," he said.

He said he considered riding another year, but when Rock Hard Ten - one of a handful of horses he named as the best he ever rode - was recently retired, "that was the last little nudge I needed."

Stevens said his duties with TVG are "open on both ends" but that he expects to do very little studio work and to travel extensively, most notably to Southern California, where he lived and worked for about 20 years. Stevens and his wife, Angie, moved several months ago to Louisville and plan to maintain their residence here.