Feb 14 2014

More on T.C. Stevens

T.C. Stevens at GP

T.C. Stevens

In Part 1 of our Meet T.C. Stevens article, T.C. explains that his horse racing bloodlines go very deep on both sides of his family tree. Not only is his dad (Gary Stevens) a jockey, but his mom’s side of the family is loaded with current and former jockeys and trainers. T.C. also introduced us to his wife, Jaime, who is his main “go-to” person in the stable … and told us the story about his first winner (Sultry Warrior) at 50-1 odds, who was the same horse that flipped over on him and broke T.C.’s leg on Day 2 of his head training career. Click here to read Part 1 about T.C. Stevens.

In Part 2, T.C. explains how he deals with the ups and downs of this business, shares some of his upcoming goals, and describes his “horse whisperer” abilities.

How do you go about attracting new owners?

We go to the racetrack a lot, and try to be where people are, but I don’t want to go and poach somebody else’s owners.  I know most of these people around here, and I don’t want to take horses off my friends.  I just try and be nice when I meet the owners.  And, maybe somewhere down the line if they see my horses running good maybe they’ll give me a shot.  I don’t want to get on the phone and solicit myself.  I’d prefer to let my work speak for itself.  I know there are people watching us, and eventually somebody will give us a chance with some decent horses.  In this business you have to be in the right place at the right time.  Eventually, if you’re around long enough something good will happen to you.

One of the trainers I have spoken to said, “This game can beat you up.” How do you mentally prepare for the ups and downs?

Can’t let yourself get too high, and can’t let yourself get too low.  It’s good to enjoy when you’re doing good, but just know when you’re doing good, it’s not going to last forever.  And just know when things are going bad, it’s not going to last forever either.  Horses are going to be good, horses are going to be bad, and horses are going to get hurt.  It’s just part of the business.  That’s why I have so much respect for the guy that’s been doing this for 20 or 30 years – because I’ve been doing it for one, and I know the headaches it can cause and the sleep that you lose.  We love what we do, and we show up, and that just keeps us going.

You can’t get too bent out of shape over something.  And you can’t let yourself think that you’ve done something that nobody else has done before, because I guarantee you that anything you’ve done around here, somebody has done it long before you.  So, you just kind of take your successes when you can get them … and cover up when they’re punching you. Try not to get kicked too hard when you’re down. It’s humbling, you can have a horse win a race and the next day you come in and the horse is done.  It can change in a hurry, but at the same time it can take you to places you never thought you could get.  The feelings I get when I win, even if it’s winning a cheap race, I get the biggest rush off it.  That’s what makes it all worth it.

To know that you … I’m not going to say out-train people, but you’ve taken lesser ammo into the fight, and you came out on top. It’s like taking a BB gun to a rifle fight and you somehow end up not dying. When you’ve got horses like I have, you’re running against some people with some tough horses.  We’re not going to always have the best horse, but we might have the horse that’s doing the best.  Woody Stephens used to say that a loaded gun can go off in anybody’s hands.  But, not everybody knows how to load the gun.  You’ve got to have them ready … and just out-work them.

How do we get fans on the front-side to feel a connection with the backside?

Jaime Stevens grazing horse

Jaime Stevens

People come to the races and they see the horses in the paddock, and they’re all dolled up and maybe they appreciate the races, but they don’t know what work is going on back here to prepare all these horses for the races they’re running in.  It’s almost like you’ve got to do it on a person-to-person basis.  I’ll bring a friend to the track that’s never been before, and if I can give them the experience of seeing the horse run, and then come back here and maybe see one or two here, then they’re hooked.

You’ve got to let people know that the horses aren’t just things being led over there to run; they’re athletes … more or less like people.  You’ve got to get the stars of the game out there, and even if it’s a cheaper horse, that horse is going to run every three weeks or so … and if there’s somebody that loves that horse and wants to watch it run … that’s the way you’re going to get people out to the game.

If you can explain what’s going on … it’s the same thing with my wife and football.  She doesn’t like football because she doesn’t understand the rules.  So, basically she’s watching a bunch of guys running around making a mess and she doesn’t know what’s going on.  So if you’ve got people coming over and they think every race is the same and they start at the same spot every race, and they always run on the same surface, it’s not as special … you know what I mean?

So, what can the horse racing industry do to improve this lack of understanding?

Let people know that we’re running out here live, and it’s not all on TV.  Don’t get me wrong, the online account wagering is great, but it takes away from people coming out to watch the races, and actually be outside, breathe the air, and be around the action.  We’ve got to get people out to the race track, having a good time, and enjoying themselves.  Make it not just about gambling, and trying to win races, but about having fun.  Even if you lose money, you’ve still got to be able to leave happy.

GP Sand Bar

Sand Bar at Gulfstream Park

It’s possible for somebody to come out, have a nice lunch, and see the horses.  Gulfstream does a good job, because they’ve got a lot of things going on.  Wives can go shopping for a couple of hours while their husbands bet the late Pick-3.  You can bring the kids.  I see people with strollers out here all the time, having a good time.  That’s how it needs to be everywhere.  Make the average day at the racetrack fun, and not just the big days where they’re giving away some T-shirts to the first hundred people.  You’ve got to make it interesting every day.  I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old, and we’d go out to watch my dad ride on a Wednesday afternoon, and there would be 40,000 people at Santa Anita on a weekday.  Live horse racing used to be huge in this country.  A lot of people, who were the heart of the fans, have gone away, because it was an older generation, and we haven’t done a good job of getting the younger people interested.

Me, myself here (on the backside) … I’m one of the youngest guys around, and there is a considerable age difference.  So, there’s a big gap from that generation to my generation … a big gap of people who maybe didn’t pick it up.  But, I’ve got a lot of friends who maybe are getting back to it a little more.  The education systems have improved, with Darley having their programs.  So, people without horse backgrounds now have an opportunity to get into the horse business.  I think it’s headed in the right direction, but it needs a lot of help to get there.  You can’t stop working on it, you have to keep on getting them out and getting excited about coming out.

Any goals you want to share?

It’s real tough to win races down here.  I feel very fortunate to have won a race, and being my first starter it took the pressure off.  My goal, with the horses I’ve got right now, is to win a race a month.  That would set me around 25%.  There are people who’d tell you I was crazy with that goal.  But, I think I can do it.  If you’re smart and put your horses in the right spot and you get them there ready, then you can do it.  Also, I’d like to get a few more horses by the time we get back to Kentucky.  Claiming them, or maybe I can pick up a few new owners with a couple of babies.  I’d like to keep my percentages high, and not take horses over unless I think they’ve got a chance to win.  I’m happy with what we’re doing here.  All it takes is the right opportunity, and I plan on making the most of it when it comes.

My goal is to win (once) every five races. If I do that, then I’m a 20% trainer.  If I get down to 13 or 14%, then I’ll start to get worried.  This is a stats game, and people read your stats.  It’s like being a baseball player who gets on base once every three times … you get $20 million for that.  I might have one (horse) run bad, but I guarantee you I didn’t think it was going to run bad.  With the horses I’ve got, I can’t take one over unless I think they got fire, and pick up a check, if not win the race.  My friends call me up (before a race), and I just tell them every horse I run I like, so you might as well not even call me.  If a horse is doing really super, I’ll tell you he’s doing really super.  But, most of mine are going to be doing really super, or I’m not bringing them over there.

So, you enjoy the “action” of being at the race track.  Specifically, what do you like about it?

I like being around horses, and hearing the old people tell stories about them.  I ride by the Giant Killer (H.A. Jerkens) every morning sitting up there … these guys are legends to me.  I think it’s really cool to look in the overnight and see I’m in a race with Bill Mott or Steve Asmussen – and to just know that my horses can go over and run with their horses.  You don’t have to have 50 of them to go over there and get the job done.  So long as you work hard and you do your homework, you’ll be alright.

Sometimes when you see people struggling, I think they’re not being realistic about what they’re working with. You’ve got to know when your horse is in the wrong spot, or when you’re horse is getting sick of getting beat the way they’re getting beat.  You’ve got to think what they’re thinking.  It’d be a lot easier if they could talk to you, but they can’t, so you’ve got to try and be a therapist every morning and see how they feel and what they need.

Are you or Jaime the horse whisperer?

I think I’ll take credit for that one. I think I have a really good feel for my horses, and when they’re having good days and bad days.  I don’t know what it is, but I can usually tell what’s going on with a horse by getting on it.  If you give me two or three days, I can tell you if a horse is good, or how we can fix the horse or improve the horse or make him happy.

Can you give me an example, Mr. Horse Whisperer?

T.C. Stevens Hugging Horse

T.C. Stevens in the A.M.

Say I got on a horse that someone told me, careful that horse is tough … or he pulls a lot.  The first thing I’d do is pull my irons up, so I could pull too.  But, maybe if you drop your irons a little bit and let the horse not think that he’s going to run a race right now, because that’s where the jockeys put their feet when they’re going to run, maybe they’ll be a little more relaxed and learn.  Or maybe a horse doesn’t like the bit in his mouth, and it could be as simple as the bit, or the way your legs are on him, or the way you sit on him, whether you’re posting on him when they’re jogging or whether you’re standing up on them.  There’s a lot of different ways to ride a horse.

The truth is, with the good horses anyone can gallop them, because the good horses tend to be smarter than the rest anyway.  They know their job and they know what they’re doing.  It’s the horses that …  maybe they’re a little slower mentally or they’re not as talented physically and they get frustrated, those are the ones that are tough and ones you’ve got to figure out.  They’re the puzzles you know.  All of these horses are like puzzles you’ve got to put together.  Maybe you’re just missing one piece, and then when you finally get that piece, your horse is ready to go.

During my visit with T.C. he showed me a horse named Katz My Song that he had claimed for $6,250 on December 27.  The horse was quite a large and glorious looking animal, and T.C. said that people were stopping him on the track telling him that it was the grandest looking horse on the grounds.  He was very friendly, and I took a few minutes to rub his head.  I felt connected.

Three days later, T.C. entered Katz My Song in a $12,500 claiming race, and he won by better than one length.  Of particular interest to me – despite the class hike, his post time odds were only 5-1.  Guess what TC … I think they are starting to really “like” you.

Thanks to T.C. and Jaime Stevens for taking the time to visit with me, and sharing their thoughts.  I hope you pick up a some new fans (and maybe owners) as a result.  I know you have at least one more fan right here!

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By Neal Benoit

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6 comments on “More on T.C. Stevens

  1. Footnote on Katz My Song: On Feb. 15, T.C. ran Katz in a $25k claiming race, and despite going off as the longest shot on the board, Katz ran a solid 2nd. Keep up the good work T.C.!

  2. T.C., It’s been a delight to read in depth about what you’re doing. You sound brilliantly grounded and motivated. And congratulations on marrying Jaime. From what I’ve read, you guys were made for each other.

    Nancy joins me in sending love to each of you!


  3. Great article on T.C. I am a Gary Stevens fan and remember T.C. and his family going into the winner’s circle when Gary would win at Santa Anita. Great days. Best of luck, T.C. and Jaime.

  4. I met TC only last summer at Saratoga at gate 19 on 5th Ave. and he is a gem of a guy. Good luck with the training and I will see you at the winner’s circle this season I am sure

    Phil Rassier on

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