Forty-four years later to March 9, 2020 at Turf Paradise Race Course in Phoenix, Arizona, Stevens notched his 5,000th career win aboard Royal Privacy.
“A jockey never forgets his first winner,” said Stevens. “And I certainly will remember my 5,000th one. In truth, I’m glad that’s over. My fellow riders certainly didn’t make it easy.”
In his last eight mounts leading up to the milestone, Stevens had to settle for five seconds, four of those just a noses or heads shy of the win.
“I’m glad I was able to do this for Sandi (Gann),” said Stevens of Royal Privacy’s trainer. Gann is the only female rider to win the Leading Jockey’s title at Turf in 1991 before embarking on her career as a trainer, following a career ending injury as a rider.
Stevens, 59, - who has no thoughts of retiring - admits that he doesn’t ride as many horses per year as he once did.
“I used to ride about 1,200 horses per year,” he said. “Now I do about 600. Right after the Turf meet ends in early May, I take the summer off and travel. But I’ll ride stakes during the off months.”
When Stevens first came to Turf in 1992 he made an impression: he won the leading rider’s title with 155 wins. He then proceeded to capture eight more titles, five of them in succession from 1994-1999.
The glamor of being a race rider comes coupled with the ever-existing danger of injury – or worse - that every jockey faces each time they go out on the track.
“I’ve broken my collar bone seven times; plenty of cracked ribs and other injuries,” revealed Stevens.
(In recent evidence of the inherent dangers of the sport came March, 7, when Stevens, seemingly heading to his 5,000th win in deep stretch, got unseated and thrown hard to the turf when his mount Stratton suffered a catastrophic injury. “I’m ok,” he said, following the spill. “I’ll be sore tonight.” Stevens took off the following race then returned in the eighth and final race, a 1 ½ mile marathon on the grass, to finish a close-up third. “I just want to get this done now,” he said.
But there was one injury that occurred in 2010 at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota that Scott thought he might not walk away from.
“My horse went down while I was on the lead and the field couldn’t avoid me,” recalled Stevens. “I couldn’t move and both my lungs were collapsed; all my ribs fractured, cracked or broken. They had to medevac me to the hospital. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. It was all in God’s hands.”
Stevens credits Pam, his “better half,” for over 20 years, with saving his life that day. “She’s a respiratory nurse in a hospital trauma center (in Phoenix). She was visiting me that day and knew exactly what to do and advise the para-medics.”
Stevens survived the ordeal, admitting that it made him realize “just how precious every day is,” and within four and one-half months he was back in the saddle.
“Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of being a jockey,” said Stevens. “So I’ve been very lucky because my dream came true. Being a jockey isn’t a job to me. It’s my life.”
The current milestone puts Stevens 35th on the Top 100 jockeys list, with retired rider Russell Baze, Numero Uno with 12,842 career wins. Stevens younger brother, Hall of Fame and retired rider Gary Stevens, ended his career with 5,187 victories to rank 32nd among the Top 100 riders.
“My goal now isn’t to better Gary,” Stevens said. “It’s to win my next race.”
Note: In the four decades-plus that Stevens has plied his trade, he has ridden over 33,205 mounts. To complement Stevens 5,000 win plateau he has finished second 4,766 times and third 4,641 for over $43,134,930 in earnings.