Meet Gary Stevens – A Very Proud Father
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens. Having met and interviewed his son, T.C. Stevens (a horse trainer) earlier this year, I wanted to learn more about the relationship between Gary and T.C. and specifically what Gary’s thoughts are on the different path that T.C. has chosen. What I learned was, as with many father-and-son relationships, it wasn’t a linear path they followed to arrive at their current relationship. There were impediments along the way. The question was, could they turn those rocks into stepping stones?
I was impressed with your son’s controlled enthusiasm. He can be enthusiastic and excitable, but at the same time very pragmatic. Where does that come from?
He’s cultivated it on his own. He’s super intelligent, and he has a very high IQ. Where that came from I don’t know! He is very passionate … he gets that from me, sometimes to the point of hurting yourself. And he wears his heart on his sleeve, which he also gets from me. What he’s thinking you usually hear. However, he’s got the ability to shut himself down when it needs to be done. That’s something that I don’t have so much. I’m very proud of him, and what you’re describing is pure T.C.
I have five kids and they’re all so different. T.C. is a unique young man. He’s pretty much got a photographic memory. The pedigrees of horses I rode before he could even read a book – he’s gone back and researched. You can basically take any horse I’ve ridden in any major race and he can rattle off the pedigree of the horse, what the horse’s race record was, and go back three and four generations. On a horse that to me, was just a random horse. You know … that’s pretty cool.
Were you and T.C. always close?
When his mother and I divorced, it was a lengthy and difficult divorce and T.C. was only eleven years old at the time. Divorce is not easy on anybody, but of the four kids, it affected him in a totally different and hardcore way. He was angry at me for a long, long time. What I wasn’t aware of was … when I was in Hong Kong (riding), he was getting every trade magazine and keeping track of what I was doing and educating himself on horse racing.
It’s been hard for both of us. I didn’t get to start spending a lot of time with him until he graduated high school, and then he moved in with me … and there were a lot of rocky roads. When he was in high school, school came very easy to him, and he wasn’t the hardest worker in the world. He didn’t have a work ethic then like you need to be successful in this business. He’s got a great work ethic now though.
I guess I had to let him spread his wings and become his own man. At times I’d get the feeling that he just thought everything was handed to me on a silver plate and I think he now realizes how hard I worked from where I came from. Really, I came from nowhere. I think he knows that now.
It took a lot of healing between the two of us. And I’d like to say we’re best friends now and there is a special connection. It just took a long time for it to happen.
At what point did T.C. become interested in training horses?
It all started when he was a junior at ASU and he called me up one day and said, “Dad, I think I’m wasting your money. I really don’t know what I’m going to school for? I want to be a horse trainer.” To be quite honest, he didn’t have any hands-on experience, other than a couple of summers he spent down at Del Mar when he was in high school. But, he hadn’t spent much time around horses.
With my connections at Ashford Stud and Thunder Gulch, and riding the Coolmore horses over the years, I made a few phone calls. I told them he was starting from ground zero. He doesn’t know a whole lot, but he’s willing to work and learn. So he started from the ground up, like me. The only difference being I started when I was 8 years old and he was a young man in his early 20’s. And, I had the advantage of growing up around it, and being hands on. I thought he was at a huge disadvantage. But, I think his education served him well … and he was able to consume everything he was taught along the line.
So, he spent a couple of years out there (Kentucky). Then, I retired and started training horses myself. He and Jaime (T.C.’s wife) were dating at the time, and they came out and went to work for me. And we clashed a little bit. He was my assistant, but he wanted to run the show. It wasn’t working out real well. So, he ended up going to Ocala, Florida and going to work for Glen Hill Farm and Hap Proctor.
They taught him more than I ever taught him. I think that’s just the way it is sometimes, sons don’t want to listen to the dad a whole lot. And it’s tough giving instructions to your son. I tend to be very hard on my kid and I want him to understand the immediacy of it all … and sometimes the patience I show with horses, I don’t show with humans.
It was sort of a helpless feeling, and me being who I am … you know, I made connections for him … but I can’t do anymore than that. I didn’t make those connections until he was ready for it. I don’t think he’d be where he is without his education at Glen Hill Farm, Coolmore, working for Wayne Catalano and some other very good horsemen. They can take the credit for what he’s observed and picked up.
How do you feel about where T.C. Stevens is right now?
I’d love to see his stable build. He and Jaime are quite a team. When I went down to ride Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions I was able to hang out with them. I was there for about six days and down at the barn quite a bit, and watched the way they work … very organized. I mean, they bust their butts. If you don’t love this game you’re not going to have great success. He definitely has the passion … they both do.
So, when are you going to ride one of his horses?
I was hoping to when I was in Florida. My agent actually called him first and said, “Hey T.C., your dad is going to be in town.” T.C. said, “Well, if I’ve got anything, you know dad’s my man! I’ll put him on.”
So, T.C. called a couple of days later, and said they wrote a race where he can run this filly and I’d like dad to ride her. My agent tells him we got a problem because that race was written for Kathy Ritvo, who trains Mucho Macho Man, and he’s got to ride a filly in there. So T.C. calls me up and jokes “You’re fired before we even get started!” The race didn’t fill anyway, so it was a non-issue. But seriously, I can’t wait to ride one of his horses.
So, as a dad … how do you feel about T.C?
My buttons burst when he’s running a horse. He won a race a couple of weeks ago and I was sitting up in the box seats at Santa Anita around 9:45 in the morning and Richard Mandella sat down next to me and said, “What are you watching?” I had Gulfstream’s races on, and I said, “My son is running a horse in a race.” So, then he won and Richard looked over at me and I had a big smile on my face. Richard has a son (Gary) training and he said, “There’s nothing like it, is there?” It meant as much to me inside as winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic . The feeling I had inside was … it was pretty cool.
My dad would say he’s proud of the way that people talk about me, and now I know what he means. Like when I went down to Florida, and everybody saying how they met T.C., and what a cool young man he is, and that he handles himself right. Nothing makes me feel better than that. He’s put a lot of time and hard work into what he does. It makes me very proud, because he’s done it on his own … and his way.
In part 2 of our conversation, Gary talks about Dylan Davis and his friendship with his dad, Robbie Davis. That leads into topics on jockey safety, pre-race preparations, and dealing with the emotions of a roller coaster business. On the last subject, Gary shares his experiences during Breeders’ Cup 2013 … from the low of being disqualified in a $2 million dollar race to the high of winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Mucho Macho Man. Click here to learn more about the Hall of Fame jockey, Gary Stevens.