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5,000-win jockey retires

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For Hall of Fame jockey and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Gary Stevens, it took the retirement of Rock Hard Ten to confirm it was time for him to step down.

"I said, 'That's it. He's retiring, I'm retiring,' " Stevens said Friday at Churchill Downs.

Stevens, who called Rock Hard Ten the best horse he'd ever ridden, ends a riding career of more than 25 years. His last mount will be Saturday in the final race of the fall meet aboard trainer Patrick Biancone's Louve Royale.

Rock Hard Ten retired on Nov. 18 after an examination detected worn cartilage in his left front foot. Among other races, Stevens rode Rock Hard Ten in the Preakness on May 15.

Stevens will go to work in January as a racing analyst with TVG, an interactive horse racing network.

"Over the years I've had a wonderful career, but it's time to hang it up," Stevens said. "There is a piece of my heart that would love to continue riding, but my body can't take it anymore."

The retirement was announced less than a month after the 42-year-old rider picked up his 5,000th win, which came aboard Joint Aspiration at Belmont. He's the 20th jockey to reach 5,000 wins.

Stevens said he may be pursuing broadcasting opportunities with one of the major television networks along with his work for TVG.

"When you hear a rumor on the racetrack, they're usually true," Stevens said. "I'll leave it at that for now."

TVG Senior Vice President and Executive Producer Tony Allevato said Stevens will not be limited to the analyst's chair.

"We'll look for opportunities to utilize him in a variety of roles and on special programming," Allevato said.

This marks the second time Stevens, whose mounts have won more than $221 million in his career, has walked away from racing. He retired in 1999, citing chronic knee pain and four operations. The retirement lasted about 10 months during which he worked as a jockey agent and an assistant trainer.

Stevens, a native of Caldwell, Idaho, also stopped racing in 2002-03 while he played the role of jockey George Woolf in the movie "Seabiscuit."

Stevens is the second Hall of Fame jockey to retire this year. Pat Day, 51, the all-time winningest rider at Churchill Downs, retired in August to work with a trackside ministry.

Five Hall of Fame jockeys now remain active: Jerry Bailey, Russell Baze, Earlie Fires, Mike Smith and Kent Desormeaux.

Stevens won the Derby with Winning Colors in 1988, Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Silver Charm in 1997. He also won the Preakness twice, with Silver Charm and Point Given (2001), and the Belmont Stakes three times — with Thunder Gulch, Victory Gallop (1998) and Point Given.

"The single greatest thrill was crossing under the twin spires right here on Winning Colors in 1988," Stevens said, choking up. "I've got a lot of fond memories here. Those will never go away."

Stevens, who moved to Louisville earlier this year from Sierra Madre, Calif., was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1997 and won the Eclipse Award as the nation's top jockey in 1998.

Stevens has won 94 races this year, including four Grade 1 events, from 484 starters, with his mounts earning more than $9.2 million.