01/28/2004 1:00AM

Stevens going to France to ride first call for Fabre


ARCADIA, Calif. - Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens will move to France in late March to ride the European flat season for leading trainer Andre Fabre.

Stevens, 40, said he would be based in France through November, with occasional trips to the United States for major stakes. Stevens will remain in California through mid-March, ride the Dubai World Cup program in the Middle East on March 27, and then move to France.

The first group stakes in France is run in March, and the season begins in earnest in early April.

Stevens said he was contacted by Fabre late last year and agreed to terms in recent days. Stevens declined to reveal the terms of the contract.

"It's pretty open. There are certain perks that I'll get," Stevens said. "This is a great opportunity."

In France, Stevens will be based in Chantilly, where many top French racing stables are located, and will ride primarily at the Paris-area courses. Fabre has been without a contract rider since he parted company with Olivier Peslier at the end of the 2002 season. Last year, Fabre used Christophe Soumillon whenever possible, but Soumillon rides first call for the Aga Khan.

The agreement marks the third time in the last 10 years that Stevens, a hall-of-fame jockey, has left California to ride outside of the U.S.

In 1995, Stevens spent three months riding in Hong Kong. In 1999, he spent two months in England, riding primarily for Sir Michael Stoute.

In the summer of 1999, Stevens cut short his England assignment to return to California and ride first call for The Thoroughbred Corp. At the time, Stevens said he was discouraged by the amount of road travel involved with riding in England, where race meetings often last one day and are spread throughout the country.

This year, Stevens said he will be permitted to ride stakes in which Fabre does not have a starter, even if that means travel.

"If he doesn't have anything going he doesn't mind me going to England," he said.

Stevens has ridden for Fabre infrequently over the years. In 1990, he rode the Fabre-trained In the Wings to a victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park. Last October, Stevens rode Fabre's Musical Chimes to a runner-up finish in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes, her final start for Fabre.