Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Hernandez Has Made Stevens’ Retirement ‘A Whole Lot Easier’ - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Hernandez Has Made Stevens’ Retirement ‘A Whole Lot Easier’

Harry Hernandez following his 600th career win aboard Sayitall at Turf Paradise

Scott Stevens is known as one of the toughest jockeys in the sport, earning the 5,000th victory of his career at 59 years of age just days after a fall which may have broken a rib. A year later, however, Stevens was forced into retirement by another fall which left him with a broken C2 vertebrae along with other minor injuries.

For a man who has known nothing but horses since his youngest days riding his father's string in Idaho, that sudden stop cannot have come easily.

“It's still hard to sit and watch horses,” Stevens admitted. “I haven't been on a horse since the accident… I got on a horse every day of my life since I was 15 years old. That was a big change.”

The transition to retirement was made somewhat easier when Stevens embarked on a new career as an agent for up-and-coming jockey Harry Hernandez at his longtime Arizona base of Turf Paradise.

“Honestly, I get more nervous watching him than I did when I rode,” Stevens said. “I'm getting the same type of a thrill, in a different way. It's still hard, but he's made it a whole lot easier. Everything works out for a reason.”

Hernandez, meanwhile, has certainly benefited from Stevens' experience as a nine-time leading rider at Turf Paradise. Hernandez is the track's leading rider by more than 50 wins, and actually holds a three-win lead as the winningest rider in the country with 108 victories.

“Scott, he has a gold heart and he's such a hard worker,” Hernandez said. “I really like his loyalty and honesty. Our teamwork, I've never felt so good working with someone. He opened his house to me, same as Pam (Stevens' wife) and her family. I am so grateful and blessed to have them in my life. They're such nice people.”

'Do your work and it'll pay off,' Scott Stevens (left) told Harry Hernandez when they teamed up

Hernandez graduated from the same class at the Puerto Rican jockey school as brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz (he has a standing wager with Irad as to who will ride the most winners in 2022). Hernandez was among the leading apprentice riders in the United States in 2015 with 124 victories, but unlike his classmates, Hernandez' career had stagnated somewhat as he plied his trade at multiple racetracks across the eastern half of the United States.

In fact, Hernandez fell into a mild depression this time last year at Tampa Bay Downs when he didn't win a single race from January through February.

“I was close to quitting,” Hernandez said. “I took off work for three weeks, and then I had a really good conversation with my dad.”

A multiple Group 1 winning rider from Puerto Rico, Harry Hernandez' lengthy career as a jockey allowed him to impart the right wisdom to his son.

After getting his head on straight, Hernandez went back to work with renewed passion. He just needed the right break.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Stevens needed a similar push.

“I had a great career, but I just didn't know what I was gonna do next,” Stevens said. “I had some people ask me to train their horses, or to be an assistant, but then (Florida-based agent) Paula Bacon actually contacted me and asked me to watch this kid ride at Finger Lakes. Larry Edwards told me he's a good kid, just needed a break.”

Then Bacon had to sell the idea to Hernandez.

Hernandez remembered the phone call vividly: “She called me and said, 'I have this really good friend who was leading rider for a lot of years at Canterbury and Turf Paradise and wants to be an agent. His name is Scott Stevens.'

“I said, 'Does he have anything to do with Gary?'”

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is Scott's younger brother, also retired from the saddle. 

Then Hernandez asked, “Paula, how far away is Arizona?”

He remembered: “Then she asked me, 'Look, do you want to ride horses or do you want to gallop?' And that's when I knew I had to try.”

After a brief telephone conversation, Stevens decided he'd be willing to take a chance on the young rider. Hernandez flew to Stevens' longtime base of Turf Paradise on the night before opening day, and the two met for the first time at the airport.

“The first horse I had him on was 26-1, and I apologized to him but told him I wanted him to get some experience over the track before the stakes race,” Stevens recalled. “Well, the thing won and paid $56. Then he ran second by a head on the turf, then won the stakes, then flew back to Finger Lakes for three weeks to finish out their meet.”

Now nearly 50 wins ahead in the standings at Turf Paradise and preparing to head north to Canterbury Park, where Stevens was a three-time leading rider, Hernandez is so grateful Stevens took the chance on him.

“Honestly I'm shocked,” the young rider said. “I feel blessed at the same time, and grateful with God for all the success he's given me.”

“Everybody likes him and he's just a good kid,” Stevens echoed. “I worked hard when I rode, you know. I mean, if you had horses to work you got there on time, so I told him, 'Do your work and it'll pay off.' That's what I'm finding with him: it doesn't matter how well he's doing, he'll get there on time and communicate well with the trainers.”

As for Stevens, he is enjoying most parts of the agent business as he continues to heal from the accident which ended his career.

“Well, it's one of those love-hate things,” Stevens said. “The hardest part is just I don't like telling someone 'No, I can't ride your horse.' I try not to piss people off, or to take it personally when I do.”

Hernandez, meanwhile, believes he has the best agent in the game: “He's a guy, for example, if we don't have a win one day, he'll call me and say, 'Man I'm sorry.'

“And I'm like, 'What are you sorry about? We can't win every day, we win some and we lose some.' He puts too much stress on himself; we have a good business right now and we have to try to pick the best one, and it's stressful for him but he knows what he's doing too. He's a really smart guy, he knows the business, so he needs to be more confident about himself. I trust Scott 100 percent as a friend and as my agent, so I know he can do it. He needs to see what a great agent he is already.”

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