Jockey Gary Stevens, who is riding Dullahan in the Dubai World Cup, says he wouldn’t have come back if he thought he was a mere shadow of his former self. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: During his seven-year retirement, American Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens gave away a lot of his riding equipment to charity.

He did not, however, part with the saddle he used to ride Silver Charm to victory in the 1998 Dubai World Cup.

Stevens, who has staged a spectacular comeback at 50, revealed to Gulf News that he has brought that saddle among a few other things here on this trip, but refused to confirm if he will use it on Dullahan in his bid to win another Dubai World Cup.

“That’s a secret,” Stevens said, although he readily revealed his hunger for another triumph in the world’s richest race.

“I’ve wanted to win, I would love to win another World Cup,” said the jockey, who retired in 2005 due to injury.

“In 1998 on Silver Charm, when I won Dubai World Cup, there was no feeling like it!

“I won three ( Kentucky) Derbies — the first one was sweet, the second sweeter and the third the sweetest of them all. You never get tired of winning,” said Stevens, who portrayed jockey George Woolf in the 2003 hit movie Seabiscuit.

Commenting on his fitness and the challenge from the younger lot of jockeys, Stevens said: “I’m in better physical shape now than I was five years before I retired. I hit the gym regularly, I’m in good shape now.

“I knew I was going to be under the microscope… there were going to be a lot of cynics and critics and it was my job to prove those people otherwise. I did not want to comeback and be just the shadow of what Gary Stevens once was. I want to be what he was. I didn’t want to come back a shadow of myself,” said Stevens, whose son has just received his trainer’s license at Kentucky.

“I wish I was as strong as I was between the ages of 25 and 33, but I’m not. But I have more experience, and I hope that with experience comes wisdom and that is a compensating factor. But if it comes down to the final two hundred I’ll match anyone — I love a battle!”, Stevens said.

Saturday may be the stage when Stevens could perhaps give a fairytale stamp to his comeback. “I am lucky to be going into Saturday with two live chances. US horses have had no success since the switch from Nad Al Sheba dirt course to the synthetic surface at Meydan.

“But in the Dubai World Cup Dullahan is a specialist on a synthetic surface with three wins back home on it including the Pacific Classic. “His only defeat was his prep run here at Meydan, where he needed the race, and where things — through no fault of his jockey that day — didn’t go right for him.”

“Dullahan has a great finish over the final 600, and my job is to put him in the right place in the race to produce that,” he said when drawn to the fact that he was starting from stall three.

Commenting on his Dubai Duty Free (Group 1) runner Little Mike, Stevens said: “With Little Mike, he’s best on turf, although his last run was on the synthetic here at Meydan, so that’s what (turf) he’s going back to in the Dubai Duty Free.”

“The trainer (Dale Romans) has said he’ll go from the front. As a rider I go with a plan A, B, C and D and even a Plan E, and I hope the plan A works. I know that he is versatile,” said Stevens, whose grand-daughter turns one next month.

A win just three months into his comeback will be another jewel in the crown for the man who has ridden nearly 4,900 winners!