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Stevens Will Go to Hong Kong to Get Back on Track

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gary Stevens, one of the country’s top jockeys for more than 10 years and currently tied for second with Kent Desormeaux behind Corey Nakatani in the Santa Anita standings, is taking his tack to Hong Kong.

Stevens, 31, completed an agreement Wednesday with trainer Steve Leung to ride in Hong Kong. He will leave on Feb. 1 and start riding there on Feb. 4.

Stevens will remain in Hong Kong until the racing season concludes on June 11, then will return to California and resume his career.

Put in contact with Leung by a friend, Paul Cheng, the jockey talked to the trainer last Friday. He discussed the possibility with jockeys Cash Asmussen and Declan Murphy, who have ridden in Hong Kong, and other people who have been there, then made his decision to go.

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“I got an offer I couldn’t refuse,” said Stevens, who added that besides a lump-sum payment from Leung he will be furnished with a house and maid, a car, and given traveling expenses for any member of his family who wants to visit him. Stevens has four children.

Stevens will not share in the purses of any races he wins for Leung, who will have first call on his services, but he will get the normal jockey share if he wins for any other trainer. He will also be free to return to the United States for a specific race if an opportunity arises, and has 30 days to change his mind if he doesn’t like what he experiences in Hong Kong.

“It’s an opportunity for me to open some other avenues in racing,” Stevens said. “With the personal changes I’ve gone through in the last 3 1/2 months (Stevens is going through a divorce), it’s an opportunity for me to get to do some things I’ve never been able to do before.”

What also made the offer attractive is that racing is conducted only twice a week, six races on Wednesdays and eight on Saturdays. He will also assist Leung, who formerly trained in England and has 40 horses in training in his second year in Hong Kong.

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"(Leung) wants my assistance in helping with his horses,” Stevens said. “In a way, I’ll be his assistant trainer.

“There are no American riders over there, but the racing is better than it’s ever been and the best international riders in the world are competing right now.

“It will be a new place for me, but the one thing in my corner is that I have ridden in a lot of different places and I’ve learned how to expect the unexpected. I’m going there with an open mind.”

Stevens acknowledged that the decision was made easier by the upheaval in his life, but said Leung had no idea he was going through a divorce.

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“I can’t say I wouldn’t have accepted the offer (otherwise),” Stevens said. “The fact that they race only two days a week was a factor in my decision.

“I’ve been going hard for 10 years with no vacation except for injury vacations, and those are no vacations. I ride all year-round and I hit the barns every morning. There is some burnout. I’ll be able to do a lot of different things, and when I come back I’ll be very fresh.”

Third in the national standings last year with earnings of $12,651,291, Stevens, through Jan. 8, had lifetime earnings of $118,726,251 and 3,692 victories. He was the nation’s leading money winner in 1990 with purses totaling nearly $13.9 million.

He will leave some quality mounts. Among the horses he rides regularly are Dare And Go, a leading contender for the $500,000 Strub Stakes on Feb. 5; Top Rung, a 4-year-old filly who upset Twice The Vice and Klassy Kim in the La Brea Stakes last month, and the promising Smooth Charmer.

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Smooth Charmer, a 3-year-old daughter of Easy Goer, broke her maiden impressively in her debut on Jan. 1 and Stevens said Wednesday she might be the best filly he has ever ridden. He rode the Wayne Lukas-trained filly Winning Colors to victory in the 1988 Kentucky Derby.


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