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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

Stevens Avoided a Fall of the Horse of Windsor

April 25, 2002|T.J. Simers

When jockey Gary Stevens received the assignment to ride the Queen of England's horse at Ascot, he was instructed to keep his distance when he met her, bow, make no attempt to reach out to her and to address the Queen as "your majesty."

He'd feel right at home here working for some of our editors.

"The Queen gave me instructions on how to ride the race," he said. "She wanted me to sit back in fourth place and wait until the last two furlongs to make the move, and I did. Sure enough, she knew what she was talking about," which is really strange, because that makes her unlike any editor I know.

Did she mention anything about "off with your head" if you failed, I said, because that would tell us if she has the mentality to be an editor.

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A FEW years ago, a sportswriter looked at Stevens cross-eyed, and Stevens wrestled him to the ground--in a bowling alley. The Queen was safe, of course, because she doesn't bowl or make fun of someone wearing a bowling shirt.

Obviously I had to be concerned when Stevens and I met, but I was relieved to see he wasn't wearing his bowling shirt. "I'm a little testy today," said Stevens, and that's all I needed--a miniature Kevin Brown.

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NOW AFTER the raucous and uproarious past few days with the Kings and all their obnoxious fans, what I really needed was some peace and quiet, so I went to Hollywood Park for opening day. This is a place so down on its luck that free parking and admission fail to draw a crowd.

The main tote board wasn't working, because what's the sense of turning it on for just a few people? I counted three more jockeys than patrons at one point.

"When you're riding down the stretch and you can hear the sound of your whip echoing through the empty grandstand, it's not very exciting," Stevens said, and I should have told him, "try betting on your horse, like I did in the seventh, and then watch you ride that slowpoke home in last place--did you ever think about using the whip, you little shrimp?"

I kept my thoughts to myself, however, because when I go bowling I don't want to spend the whole night looking over my shoulder.

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WEDNESDAY WAS the first day in California history when you could watch the final four races from Hollywood Park on TV--including Stevens' last-place finish by a mile--wager, collect and not leave home. Apparently that's what most people did.

The Sparks drew 3,594 more fans to their opener last season than Hollywood Park did Wednesday, and the Sparks charged admission. Hollywood's attendance of 7,851 free customers was the lowest opening day crowd in the track's history--and that's dating to 1938.

"Horse racing missed the boat a while back. When all the other major sports were advertising and promoting their product, we didn't feel the need for it. Now that boat has sailed," Stevens said, and for a guy who rides horses, he sure has some fixation on boat racing. "It's like trying to win a race when you start 20 lengths back."

Maybe you ought to go to the whip, I thought, but I didn't say it.

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THE SPORT, of course, needs more of Stevens, not only plodding down the stretch--you can go to the whip any time now--but standing before the cameras and the guys with the notebooks. Like Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye and Laffit Pincay, these are the stars, and racing's last hope for rejuvenation.

There aren't going to be any more great horses, and even if there is an animal capable of grabbing the headlines for a year or so, the money that comes from breeding is too big a lure to allow a horse to hang around and lose its appeal.

The tug-of-war that goes on between owner and trainer egos does more to detract from the sport than help it, bringing me right back to the jocks' room, and the little guys who are every bit as talented at what they do as Kobe Bryant, Adrian Beltre and Jason Allison. Would you bet on Allison scoring tonight?

Stevens has a new book in stores, "The Perfect Ride," which has him beating a childhood disease to become a Hall of Fame jockey. If the racing industry could capture and capitalize on the passion he has for the sport, you might have people pulling for him, and thereby pulling them to the track.

"I'll do whatever it takes to promote this sport," Stevens said. "People aren't showing up anymore, but maybe this new TV thing will give some new people a chance to see us little guys, and get them interested in coming to the track and giving us a closer look."

Maybe horse racing should consider a new marketing theme: "Your alternative is to give the Sparks a closer look."

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THERE'S A horse named "Spinelessjellyfish" running this weekend, and because an e-mailer this week called me a "spineless jelly fish," I think they were trying to tell me something.

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WHO IS going to be eliminated first--the Kings or the Angels?

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I'M WITH the Kings all the way in Denver tonight, but to be honest, I shaved Wednesday. It's my job to get the news for the readers, and I didn't want to put off any of the Playmates with my scruffy look. I was just thinking of you people.

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TODAY'S LAST word comes in an e-mail from Larry S.

"Salma Hayek has a huge diamond ring from Ed Norton, and while everything is still hush-hush, people noticed it when they were at a recent Laker game. They were even spotted kissing."

But whom was she thinking about?

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com

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