Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens has retired for the third time and ruled out further comebacks after an MRI showed his C-4 vertebra up against his spinal cord. The 55 year old jockey’s career included 5,187 wins in 29,442 starts. The horses he rode won more than $258 million.
Stevens was injured in the post parade on Saturday at Del Mar after which his right arm went numb. Assuming he had pinched a nerve in his neck, he rode one more race, but then went to see his doctor, who told him, “You’re done.”
“I was getting close anyway,” Stevens said. “Now it will be time to pursue other things, but thank God I’m not in a wheelchair.”
Stevens retired for the first time at age 42, shortly after his 5,000th win, due to a series of knee injuries. Ten months later he was back in the saddle racing.
Stevens retired a second time in 2005, citing more knee problems. For seven years he worked as a TV analyst for NBC, TVG and HRTV.
In 2013, he came back to the sport and won his first race — on the filly Branding at Santa Anita. Five months later pulled off a 15-1 upset in the Preakness Stakes on Oxbow. Later that year he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Mucho Macho Man and the Distaff on Beholder.
He was inducted into the racing hall of fame in 1997.
Stevens won the Kentucky Derby three times — in 1988 on the filly Winning Colors, in 1995 on Thunder Gulch and in 1997 on Silver Charm. He won the Preakness three times and the Belmont Stakes three times. He won 11 Breeders’ Cup races.
Stevens’ success on the track was matched only by his many injuries. Nicknamed the “Bionic Man” for his joint replacements, he suffered through a host of injuries.
Stevens’ first major accident was a starting gate training incident in 1985 when a horse threw him into the rail, putting him into a coma for 16 hours and causing serious injuries to his shoulder and right knee. In 2003, he suffered major injuries in the Arlington Million when his horse, in first place, spooked at the finish line, throwing him in front of the rest of the field, where one horse stepped on him, resulting in a collapsed lung and neck injuries. He returned to racing 19 days later.
Over the years, he had more than a dozen arthroscopic surgeries on his knees, and three on his left, including a total knee replacement in 2014, reconstructive surgeries on both shoulders, a broken collarbone and ankle, a collapsed long, multiple broken vertebrae and his right wrist is held together by a plate and six screws. In December, 2016, he had hip replacement surgery on his left hip and started thinking of retiring again.