Tory Stevens Follows Father Into Thoroughbred Racing
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Given his bloodlines, it was always a good bet that Tory Stevens would wind up with a career around horses.
His father, Gary Stevens, is a Hall of Fame jockey who is approaching 5,000 lifetime victories, including nine in the Triple Crown and 10 in the Breeders’ Cup.
Aside from acting and broadcasting, Gary Stevens also had a brief turn as a trainer during a six-year retirement he ended in 2013, winning one of 26 starts in 2009 and 2010. When 29-year-0ld Tory decided to give training a shot for himself after working on farms in Kentucky and Florida, dad was there to lend his encouragement and expertise.
“My dad is very supportive. He watches all the races and likes to call and give me a little training advice,” Stevens said. “I remind him that we’ve won the same amount of races as trainers together. I said, ‘My next one, I’m going to have more wins than you it at least in one category.’ It’s good.”
Stevens is stabled at Gulfstream Park for the first time this winter, after spending the summer and fall in Kentucky running at Ellis Park, Keeneland and Churchill Downs. He expanded his string to four horses by claiming Katz My Song, a 5-year-old Unbridled’s Song horse for $6,250 on Dec. 27. On Friday, Stevens will saddle his first horse at Gulfstream when he sends out Rowdy Miss in the sixth race.
So far, the stable includes himself, his wife Jaime, and one groom, based at the far end of barn 10 behind the main track.
“We’re doing it all right now,” Stevens said. “Jaime is a big part of everything we do here, helping out with everything. We’re trying to get rolling, but I think we brought some decent stock down here. We’re just down here trying to win some races and pick up a couple more horses, and prove we can play with the big boys.”
Stevens grew up around the racetracks in California and when he reached high school, began working summers at Del Mar. He moved to Kentucky after graduation and worked a few years at Ashford Stud before moving to Glen Hill Farm in Ocala.
Soon, Stevens found himself in South Florida galloping horses for trainers such as Tom Proctor and Wayne Catalano before taking out his trainer’s license at the beginning of 2013.
“It was time to either figure out if I actually wanted to train horses or if I was going to just ride them for somebody else my whole life,” Stevens said. “I think I can train a horse with anybody else around here, so we’ll find out.
“I only started riding horses about four years ago. I had mostly done all my work on the ground, being an assistant at the barn and stuff like that. When I started riding, (my father) wasn’t all that fond of me getting on horses because he knows how dangerous it can be. I think he knows that my horsemanship greatly improved from being able to ride horses and feel what’s going on underneath me on the track. I think it makes a big difference.”
Stevens got a rude introduction to training, breaking his leg in a training accident on just his second day on the job when the horse he was riding, a 3-year-old filly named Sultry Warrior, got spooked and fell, taking Stevens with her.
“I broke her, and she broke me,” Stevens said. “I bought her and started breaking her at the end of her 2-year-old year, and it was like her second day on the track. We were backing up and there was a lady getting run off with on the outside fence coming straight at us.
“She froze up and got scared, and when she went to go she fell on me and broke my leg. I was sitting there thinking, ‘Man, it could have been a lot worse,’ but broken legs suck. I wouldn’t wish them on anybody. I’d never stayed the night in a hospital and all of a sudden, the second day I started training I have a broken leg.” Sultry Warrior, out of Majestic Warrior, was Stevens’ first starter, finishing seventh at Ellis Park on July 4. She also became his first winner, lighting up the toteboard on the night of Sept. 28 at Churchill Downs, paying $104.40. Jockey Jesus Castanon was up.
“She kind of paid me back. She came and won and paid all that money, so it was a kind of a cool little deal,” Stevens said. “I’ll remember that horse forever.”
The day was a memorable one for father and son. Hours before Tory Stevens picked up his milestone victory, Gary Stevens won four races at Santa Anita, three of them stakes, two of them Grade 1 races, including the Awesome Again with Florida-bred fan favorite Mucho Macho Man.
“It was big. It was kind of crazy,” Tory Stevens said. “He won all those races, and I had talked to him because our race wasn’t until 10:45 at night. I was drinking Monsters to stay awake, and all of a sudden there was no monster to compare to her. When she won, I couldn’t control myself. It was really, really cool and, hopefully, we can have some big days like that again.”
Proud as he is of his father, Stevens isn’t relying on the family name to further his career.
“Dad always liked me being around horses. I think it gave us a common ground to bond over,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure. It’s not easy. People expect a lot from you and sometimes you get put in spots and, instead of being able to learn like everybody else, a lot is expected from you. I think I’ve learned to deal with it and not really pay attention to what people are saying or thinking.