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The Perfect Ride
by Gary Stevens with Mervyn Kaufman
from Citadel Press, 256 pages hardcover

Jockey Gary Stevens has been a household name in the sport of Thoroughbred racing ever since he broke into the spotlight in the mid 1980's. He has demonstrated his skill all over the world, in North America, Japan, Hong Kong, Europe, and Dubai. Finally, he gets to tell his story.

In his autobiography, The Perfect Ride, he demonstrates that "there's no such thing as a perfect ride", although he mentions several of his that are close to it. He describes some of his more memorable rides in great detail, from the start through the running complete with bumping and bobbles and ultimately the final push for the finish with his mount's nose in front, as well as some rides that were best forgotten. Some rides he credits to the trainer for giving him the right advice he needed to steal the race from the competition. His win aboard Da Hoss in the 1996 Breeders' Cup Mile at Woodbine involved altering the horse's running style from front-runner to closer and hugging the rail despite heavy traffic up front, instructions given to him that morning by trainer Michael Dickinson. He is also quick to admit "a $4 million mistake" when he turned down the mount on Singspiel in the second Dubai World Cup, a ride that Jerry Bailey inherited to win the race. He names his favorite mounts and in the appendix are past performance charts of these horses, including his first Derby winner Winning Colors and 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given.

Apparently the "glamorous" life of a top-caliber jockey isn't so glamorous, as Stevens candidly reveals. He has to constantly fight to keep his weight down, he was seriously injured numerous times in his career requiring reconstructive surgery, and did briefly retire because the pain had gotten too great for him to ignore. Early on he would get into fist fights with other jockeys in the dressing room or the sauna over incidents that happened on the track. But beyond these problems typical to many jockeys, he also suffered a near-bankruptcy at the hands of his business manager, a messy divorce from his first wife keeping him away from his children and further draining his resources, and grief over the death of his friend Chris Antley.

An entire chapter was dedicated to his season spent in England, moving his tack under the assumption that riding there would be easier on his sore knees. He quickly found out he was wrong as the bumpy rides on undulating turf courses were harder on him than any flat American track. He also describes an incident in the paddock at Royal Ascot where his mount's owner gave him the riding instructions, which he followed and won the race. What made this significant is that the owner was none other than Queen Elizabeth II.

Stevens (with co-author Mervyn Kaufman) avoided a monotonous chronological narrative. Instead, they dedicate each chapter to some aspect of his career: one all about Point Given, another about his tour of duty in Hong Kong, yet another about trainers. As you work your way through the book, you get a clearer picture of what he went through all those years. Finally, Stevens gave us his opinions on where the sport is going. He is against race-day medications, since masking the pain allows horses who shouldn't be on the track to run endangering the lives of both the jockeys and horses. Also he observed a decline in the quality of everyday racing since he started twenty years ago, citing year-round racing and shorter racing careers for horses as major culprits. "Where horses were once raced for their owners' enjoyment and the beauty of the sport, a great many horses are now raced just for money. Horse racing is no longer the sport of kings."

The book is an easy read and is recommended for all fans of racing. You get not only a taste of what it's like to be a jockey, but insights on some of the best horses and trainers of the past twenty years, which Stevens was fortunate to have teamed up with to victory.

The Perfect Ride has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $17.47. Want to win a copy of this book? Enter here!

Rating:     3.5/5

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