08/19/2003 11:00PM

Stevens 'just glad to be alive'


DEL MAR, Calif. - Gary Stevens says he has no recollection of the finish of Saturday's Arlington Million, when he was dumped by Storming Home and then clipped by trailing horses. But after watching a replay of the race, the Hall of Fame jockey was grateful. "I'm just glad to be alive," he said.

Stevens, despite being in great pain and with labored breathing, conducted a brief teleconference on Wednesday, during which he confirmed he is suffering from a collapsed lung and a fracture to a cervical vertebra. There had been thought that the fracture was an old injury, but Stevens said he now believes it happened Saturday.

"Now that I'm off the pain medication they gave me after the accident, I can tell you it's a new injury," Stevens said. "The pain is just below my neck, in the shoulder blade. There's a shooting pain running down my arm. When I turn my head in a certain direction, I get a shooting pain. Last night was a very uncomfortable night."

Stevens was released from a hospital near Arlington Park on Tuesday morning and then flown back to Del Mar on the private jet owned by Arlington Park's chairman, Richard Duchossois. Stevens said his "first goal is to find a specialist" to look at X-rays of his neck and shoulder. "I want to figure out what's going on," he said.

Stevens said the prognosis of his being out one month "is the maximum."

"I want to give the lung plenty of time to heal," he said. "There's still an open wound in my chest. I had a tube removed for the lung two days ago."

But Stevens added that he wants "100-percent recuperation" before he returns to the saddle.

"I want to make sure my lungs are healthy, and that I have the confidence to go out and do the job," Stevens said. "The way I feel now, riding is the last thing on my mind. I'm in a lot of pain. I'm reaching for air."

Stevens and Storming Home were within yards of victory on Saturday when Storming Home suddenly ducked to his right. Stevens tried to hang on, but toppled off. "I don't know what happened," Stevens said. "He's not a mean horse. He wasn't trying to hurt me. The pictures I've seen, the horse has a startled look on his face. I remember the race vividly to the head of the stretch. Everything in the stretch is still a blur. I don't have any recollection of the accident.

"On the way to the hospital, I was scared to death. I thought I was having a heart attack. I thought I was dying. There was pain in a lot of different places."

Stevens, 40, retired for nine months beginning in December 1999 because of chronic soreness in his knees. He has been able to manage that issue with nutritional supplements since his return, but this past year his life took a new path when he was cast in a significant supporting role, as jockey George Woolf, in the movie "Seabiscuit."

Stevens, though, said he still considers acting a second career. "I consider myself a jockey," he said, disputing a widely disseminated quote that claimed Stevens said his "Hollywood face was okay."

"I don't consider myself a Hollywood star," he said.