Gary Stevens had a gameplan for the Preakness, but he never got around to convincing Oxbow to go along with him.
Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey, was going to ease his mount into third or fourth place off the start and then try to mount a winning rally.
However, that plan went out the window when Oxbow took off running out of the gate and made the lead easily. "His ears were up and he was happy," Stevens told the NBC Sports Network in interviews after the race. "I was hoping the boss (trainer D. Wayne Lukas) wouldn't be mad at me."
There was no chance of that happening since the fractions in the race were slow. Oxbow held onto his lead without any trouble. He was able to hold it down the stretch.
Oxbow's victory in the Preakness meant there would be no triple crown winner for the 35th consecutive year. Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner, finished fourth and was never in serious contention.
Stevens, 50, became the oldest jockey to win the Preakness. It was his third victory in the classic Baltimore race.
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The victory capped a remarkable comeback for Stevens, who had turned to acting and horse racing analysis on television after retiring in 2005.
Stevens had eight Triple Crown victories on his resume, including a 1988 Kentucky Derby victory on Winning Colors that he he had previously described as the biggest thrill in his career.
Stevens had decided to retire because of the damage that had been done to his body by the sport. While there were other injuries, he had particularly bad knees. Don Markus of The Baltimore Sun reported he had 13 operations on his knees.
Stevens fell easily into his second career of acting. He played the role of jockey George Woolf in the 2003 blockbuster hit Seabiscuit and also had a starring role in the HBO series Luck, which premiered in 2012 and was well received by critics.
After the second season of the show was signed and agreed to, the series was abruptly cancelled. Three horses had reportedly died on the set, and HBO pulled the plug.
After the series was halted, the racing siren sang in Stevens' ear. He told his wife, Angie, that he wanted to ride again. He hooked up with kickboxer Clark Masterson, who helped Stevens get into shape.
Former rider Chris McCarron was not the least bit surprised when he heard that Stevens was about to make a comeback. He told the Baltimore Sun:
He's an incredibly competitive individual and I'm sure there were plenty of times when he was sitting on the set at HRTV or NBC and he was watching some rather poor rides out there, scratching his head and wondering "Man, if I was on that horse, I wouldn't have done that." That's the way I've felt [working as an analyst].
When he began his quest to get into shape, he was a pudgy 140 pounds. After he concluded his training, he was down to a rock-hard 114 pounds.
He returned to racing in January and quickly made it back to the winner's circle.
However, while Stevens could dream of winning a Triple Crown race, the reality of it floored him. The cameras caught him talking to himself as he crossed the finished line. He told NBC what he was saying.
"Are you kidding me?"
He was not kidding. Stevens, after nearly eight years of retirement from racing, had just won his ninth Triple Crown race.
Stevens explained how Oxbow had been strong in the warm-up before the race and that he just started running when the gates opened.
"He simply pulled me to the lead and he was running easily," Stevens said. "He managed to hold his position and he was at his best when we got to the head of the lane. I felt good about our chances because he wasn't laboring."
Neither was Stevens. He may have spent most of the last seven years pursuing acting and horse racing analysis, but his heart was never far from the excitement of race day.
And the thought of competing in the Triple Crown races is what stirred his passions more than anything.
He showed that his talents and abilities were still a match for his passion as he came home a winner.
The only thing left now is to figure out who plays Gary Stevens in the movie.
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