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Jockey Gary Stevens has every reason to smile

While the cheerless early morning gloom wrapped around Santa Anita Racetrack is decidedly un-Californian, there’s a touch of the Zen master about Gary Stevens that is as west coast as a Big Sur yoga retreat.

“I feel really good right now,” says Stevens, tapping a finger to his crown. “The biggest thing is staying flexible and the stretching really helps me. Touch wood, I feel good.”

Stevens is perched on a stone slab close to the outside rail, beyond which a steady traffic of equine acrobats heads home after morning exercise. He’s garbed in his typical attire: baseball cap, jacket and riding boots. Rather atypical for Stevens – given the inscrutable card-face he ordinarily wears in public – is the air he brings with him this morning, complete with the easy smile of someone who has lost a dime but found a diamond.

All things considered, Stevens has good reason to smile at present.

After returning to the saddle a little over a year ago, after a seven-year hiatus, he recorded what he regards as his finest season as a jockey. His haul of nine Grade I wins included a Triple-Crown victory aboard Oxbow in the Preakness Stakes with a performance that should take high-billing on anyone’s top-10 list of wiliest rides.

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