Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens will undergo hip replacement surgery before Christmas, a procedure that could put an end to his riding career, he announced in a statement released early Tuesday. Stevens cautioned he was unsure whether he would be able to return to riding in 2017.
According to the statement, released through his wife, Angie Athayde Stevens, Stevens has been fighting a problematic hip in recent months and was hoping to ride through the spring before needing treatment. He underwent tests on Monday that indicated the operation needed to be moved forward.
The setback is the latest change in short-term plans for Stevens, who said earlier this fall that he planned to ride at Oaklawn Park in 2017. He reversed course last month with the announcement that he would ride first-call in Southern California for Mick Ruis.
In Tuesday’s statement, Stevens indicated that he will continue to work with Ruis as an advisor and assistant trainer. Ruis has said repeatedly that he plans to take out a trainer’s license for 2017 and hopes to have a stable of more than 40 horses. His horses are currently trained by Craig Dollase.
Stevens expressed concern that the hip injury could end his illustrious career.
“I wasn’t ready to hang it up and I still don’t know if I’m ready,” he said in a statement. “I’m going to have the procedure done next week and I’ll play it by ear. I’m in a great position with Ruis Racing and I don’t want to lose that. Luckily, I can continue on as part of the team and see what happens in a few months.
“All I can do is have it done and hope for the best,” he said of the operation. “I hope I’m in a position in a few months where I can make the choice if I want to go back to riding or not.”
Stevens, 53, has had an outstanding year, having ridden Beholder to a dramatic win by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita on Nov. 4. Beholder was retired after the BC Distaff and has been sent to Kentucky to be bred next year.
In 2016, Stevens won 40 races from 316 mounts who earned $5.9 million. Stevens was often selective with his mounts, frequently riding only a few horses a day.
Stevens has won 15 stakes this year, the most recent of which was the Ruis-owned Defiantly in the Let It Ride Stakes at Del Mar on Nov. 12.
Stevens has won 5,083 races in the United States and Canada and has ridden extensively internationally, notably in Dubai, England, and Hong Kong in a career that began in 1979.
Stevens has fought knee problems in the past that have led to temporary retirements. With the exception of one mount in an exhibition, Stevens once did not ride for seven years, making a comeback in January, 2013. That year he won the Preakness Stakes on Oxbow and the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Mucho Macho Man..
In 2014, he underwent knee replacement surgery that resulted in a four-month break.
Earlier in his career, Stevens won the Kentucky Derby three times — on Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), and Silver Charm (1997).
Stevens won the 1998 Dubai World Cup on Silver Charm.