Gary Stevens celebrates atop of Oxbow after crossing the finish line to… (Patrick Smith / Getty Images )
BALTIMORE — Gary Stevens on Saturday became the oldest jockey to win the Preakness, and the Hall of Famer has Clark Masterson to thank.
Masterson, a personal trainer based in Bellevue, Wash., helped the 50-year-old jockey lose 25 pounds and nearly 8% body fat during two months of workouts last year.
It allowed Stevens to come out of retirement after seven years and resume a riding career that produced eight Triple Crown victories and nearly 5,000 other victories.
Running in his 17th Preakness, Stevens rode Oxbow to his third win. Stevens also won the race in 1997 (aboard Silver Charm) and 2001 (Point Given).
"Gary was clearly focused and driven," Masterson said in a phone interview before the race. "Every time we established a base line in our tests, he would go farther and he would go harder. He was pushing himself every single time."
Masterson said Stevens was able to push through the pain that forced him to retire in 2005, mainly because of knees that had undergone more than a dozen operations.
If anything, Masterson had to hold Stevens back like a jockey might a horse that gets skittish in the starting gate.
"He wanted to get in, get going and start crushing stuff right away," Masterson said. "He wanted to get better, he wanted to get himself stronger. He was ready to hit the ground running, and he did."
Masterson didn't get to see Stevens win the Preakness. He was showing his mother and daughter around Seattle on Saturday. He found out when he received a text message from someone he works with at the health club where he trained Stevens.
"It's awesome," Masterson said Saturday night.
Asked whether he was going to ask for a raise, Masterson laughed.
"No," he said. "I'm just going to give him a high-five."
A pair of racing aficionados from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., spent Saturday watching the early races at Pimlico, then they put their observations to use to score a good payday in the Preakness.
Joe Cavallo, 26, and Stephanie Rafferty, 21, hit the Pick 4 with Preakness winner Oxbow, Itsmyluckyday, Mylute and Orb. One of their 72 50-cent Pick 4 bets netted $4,883.05, and Rafferty fought back tears as she saw the payout.
"What am I going to do with $5,000?" Rafferty said. "It hasn't set in yet."
While the couple spends countless summer days at the track in Saratoga, Rafferty, who works in construction, said she only gambles on the big race days. On days with big payouts like the Preakness and Kentucky Derby, Cavallo, a mortgage consultant, said they typically study the day's races and use what they glean for Pick 4 selections.
Saturday, they noticed that the horses who started quickly were never caught and ran away with victories, so the couple bet on speed horses like Oxbow.
"We played the track variables," Cavallo said.
Cavallo and Rafferty bet on speed, but San Francisco resident Devan Gillick's $50 win betting on Oxbow was all about sentiment.
A self-proclaimed horse lover who came to Baltimore with three friends for her 30th birthday, Gillick came to know horse racing from her late father, who once bought her a biography of Wayne Lukas, Oxbow's trainer.
She also said Stevens was her favorite jockey.
Family and racing
It's not always in the Preakness, but every year, Nicole Stall urges her husband, trainer Al Stall Jr., to find a race for one of his horses on the third Saturday in May.
This year, Departing gave Al Stall his second Preakness mount, finishing sixth in the nine-horse race while his wife and her family were treated to another memorable Preakness Day.
"I used to always come growing up, and we try and run horses on the undercard every year — we just want to come," Nicole Stall said before the race. "About January [every year], I'm like, 'What do we bring to Maryland?' We've just got to get here. We love coming here."
Departing ran from the fourth post with morning-line odds of 11-1. In 2009, the Stall-trained gelding Terrain finished seventh in the Preakness. Stall is based in New Orleans, but races in Kentucky and Saratoga.
But the familiarity of Preakness Day hasn't dampened the excitement for Nicole's family. She said her parents, sister and brother-in-law were among the 20 family members and friends in attendance Saturday.
"It's just a great day," she said. "For me to work in the horse industry and live here, this is probably the one race I really want to win."