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Hall of Famer eager to get started

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Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens stressed this week it is not a working vacation to winter at Oaklawn Park for the first time this year after previously being based in southern California.

Stevens had just breezed Cool Alley, an unstarted 3-year-old filly for trainer Mike Johnson, on Monday when he outlined his previous day at Oaklawn. Stevens, 54, is clearly still a working man.

"Worked more horses yesterday morning than I think I have in the last 20 years, in the morning," Stevens said.

Stevens said he breezed seven horses Sunday, including Streamline, among the favorites for Saturday's $125,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares. He has 20 career victories at Oaklawn, including six stakes.

The jockey's last stakes victory in Hot Springs came aboard Concept Win in the Grade 3 $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap in 1996. Stevens' first at Oaklawn came in 1985, when he guided Tank's Prospect to victory in the Grade 1 $500,000 Arkansas Derby.

In between, Stevens won the Kentucky Derby twice in 1988 and 1995, three Breeders' Cup races and countless other Grade 1 events, fueling his induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1997.

Two decades later, Stevens, wife Angie and their 8-year-old daughter Maddie have traded southern California for Arkansas. He said his family left New Year's Day and drove to Tucson, Ariz., spent the next night in Fort Worth, Texas, and rolled into Hot Springs just before noon on Jan. 3.

Stevens has 87 career mounts at Oaklawn, but his wife and daughter have never been to Hot Springs. Angie is a talent manager and Maddie, a model and actress, is home-schooled, the jockey said.

"They didn't know what to expect," Gary Stevens said. "They are in heaven right now. They didn't know what they were getting into. They didn't know where I was taking them -- put it that way -- and they're pretty happy."

Stevens, who is represented by agent Jay Fedor, is named on 15 horses the first three days. He will be riding for celebrated names like Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O'Neill and Wayne Lukas, a longtime supporter.

In the ultra-tough southern California jockey colony, Stevens had only 264 mounts overall in 2017, but he said he will not be choosy during the Oaklawn meeting, which begins today.

"Whatever my agent puts me on," Stevens said. "He's got the pen, and I've got the reins. He's got a green light. He's a good agent."

Physically, Stevens said he feels better than he did before knee problems triggered a lengthy retirement from the saddle between 2006--12. Stevens had knee replacement surgery in 2014 and hip replacement surgery in 2016.

"Knees are good, hip's good," Stevens said. "Feel like a kid again."

Stevens began riding professionally in 1979, and he starts 2018 with 5,125 victories and $253,464,419 in purse earnings in his career, the latter ranking ninth in North American history, according to Equibase, racing's official data gathering organization.

Stevens won an Eclipse Award as the country's outstanding jockey in 1998, has 11 Breeders' Cup victories and nine in Triple Crown events. His numerous A-list mounts include Eclipse Award winners Beholder, Silver Charm, Point Given and Serena's Song.

There's room for more A-listers, Stevens said.

"I haven't felt this way in a long time," Stevens said. "I feel pretty motivated right now and just excited to get started. I feel the pressure because big things are expected, and I'm going to get the opportunity to ride for some top outfits and some very good horses. It's up to me to perform now."

Sports on 01/12/2018

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