06/25/2009 11:00PM

Stevens follows familiar path


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - When John Longden retired after 39 years in the saddle, in April 1966, the skids were pretty well greased for his training career. His primary patron, Canadian lumberman Frank McMahon, was behind Longden all the way. And if that wasn't enough, in July 1967 McMahon spent a world-record $250,000 for a yearling son of Raise a Native, named him Majestic Prince, and turned him over to Longden. Two years later, the colt won the Derby and the Preakness.

Bill Shoemaker set up shop as a trainer soon after his retirement as well, in January 1990. Befitting his stature as the most famous jockey who ever lived, Shoemaker attracted a number of prime clients from the start, including Allen Paulson and R.D. Hubbard, and he was building a solid reputation before his crippling highway accident in 1991. Even then, Shoemaker continued to train winnners from a wheelchair until his retirement in November 1997.

It has been a little less than four years since Gary Stevens retired once and for all, after a career that included 4,888 winners, three Kentucky Derbies, and a place in the Hall of Fame. Since then, he has signed on as color commentator for NBC's major racing events, went from TVG to HRTV as a regular on-air analyst, advised IEAH Stables of Big Brown fame on bloodstock purchases, and even dabbled briefly as a jockey's agent, after which he pleaded with his friends, "Don't ever let me do that again."

Now Stevens has hung out a shingle as a full-fledged trainer, in a corner of a barn at Santa Anita where Tiznow used to live. As of this week, Stevens has two runners in training, one official employee, and a 13-year-old Thoroughbred stable pony named Mountain Range who once raced for Jeff Mullins, Lynn Whiting, and Wayne Lukas.

More horses figure to be on the way, and not just because every bloodstock agent with backstretch access has dropped off a list of inventory on the market. Stevens is putting the finishing touches on an investor group he hopes will jumpstart the stable in serious way. In the meantime, all eyes are on the 3-year-old Lesson in Deceit, a son of Roaring Fever who won the Tempe Handicap at Turf Paradise in March for another trainer named Stevens.

Ron Stevens, Gary's father, owns Lesson in Deceit along with his oldest son Craig Stevens. The elder Stevens trained the colt through seven races in Arizona, with 2 wins and 3 seconds, then sent him to trainer Sean McCarthy for two stakes starts in Southern California. When Gary opened shop, Lesson in Deceit filled the first stall.

The Stevens patriarch had his three sons working with horses from the ground up as soon as they could handle a rub rag. There are pictures of an 8-year-old Gary doing stalls at Idaho racetracks, just as there will be photos of the 46-year-old version wrapping legs, cleaning tack, and doing whatever needs to be done.

In terms of continuity, Stevens has picked up the torch for his father, who submitted to extensive spine surgery six weeks ago and is still feeling the post-operative effects.

"I wouldn't want to go through it again," Ron Stevens said. "They fused my whole lower back. It was a result of all the things I thought I got away with when I was younger. I've got more metal in me now than my boys do."

The litany of injuries sustained by jockey brothers Gary and Scott Stevens is enough to fuel a health-care seminar. Gary saved his most spectacular for his last, when Storming Home bolted out from under him just shy of winning the 2003 Arlington Million. Stevens was pounded to the hard turf and trampled in the bargain, suffering a collapsed lung.

The only serious horsebacking Stevens had done lately was getting ready to ride an all-star jockeys race for Hall of Famers last October at Santa Anita, along with the occasional test-drive of a prospective purchase for IEAH. Now he's on Mountain Range every day, with more to come.

"Believe it or not, just riding a pony in a stock saddle has gotten my back fit again and feeling good," Stevens said. "I definitely will be breezing a lot of my horses."

On June 4, Gary and his wife, Angie, welcomed into this world their first child, Madison Kathryn Cooper Stevens. That's offspring No. 5 for Stevens and grandchild No. 8 for his parents.

"She looks a lot like Gary did when he was a baby," Ron Stevens said. "But she favors them both."

Stevens admits one of the main reasons he wanted to start a racing stable was to give his son, T.C. Stevens, the same solid grounding in the horse racing business that he received as a boy. Christened Tory Chad, T.C. Stevens is 24 and recently worked for Ashford Stud, the Kentucky-based branch of Ireland's Coolmore empire.

"He did great there and learned a whole lot, as you would expect from that kind of organization," Stevens said. "He also looked around one day and saw that there were seven other guys doing about the same thing he was, and they all had Irish accents. So I'm doing this for him and for me.

"And with the baby's feeding times, I'm gonna be awake at four in the morning anyway," Stevens added. "I might as well come on out here and try to accomplish something."