Hall of Fame Jockey Gary Stevens
He has won three Kentucky Derbys, two Preakness Stakes and three Belmont Stakes. Now 40 years old, he has been riding professionally since he was 16. Stevens is the author of the autobiography, The Perfect Ride and has a part in the new film Seabiscuit as jockey George Woolf.
Other segments from the episode on August 11, 2003
DATE August 11, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Gary Stevens discusses his career as a jockey and his
role as George Woolf in the film "Seabiscuit"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.
To make a movie, you need people with specialized talents. You need set
decorators, cinematographers, stuntpeople, dialogue coaches. The filmmakers
of the new movie "Seabiscuit" had a special requirement. They needed a
thoroughly convincing star jockey, and they found him in three-time Kentucky
Derby winner and Horse Racing Hall of Famer Gary Stevens. Stevens plays the
role of the Iceman, legendary jockey George Woolf, in the film. As if his
other credits weren't enough to qualify him for the part, in 1996 he received
the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award at Santa Anita Racetrack for his
outstanding achievement in the sport. This is Stevens' first movie role.
He's the author of a memoir of his career in horse racing called "The Perfect
Ride." It's now out in paperback.
In the book "Seabiscuit," author Laura Hillenbrand writes that Red Pollard was
not a great jockey, but on that particular horse he was a genius. I asked
Gary Stevens to talk about the special connection between a rider and his
Mr. GARY STEVENS (Jockey; Actor; Author, "The Perfect Ride"): You know,
that's the amazing thing about horse and jockey. There's definitely a
communication between horse and jockey. And I've ridden several horses
throughout my career that may or may not have responded to me as well as
somebody else, and they turn out to be great horses. And I can really sense
when I ride a horse and that horse is not giving me its best effort. And it
may be a case of the horse has a totally different attitude than I have. And
I believe that there is a definite mix.
And Red Pollard was a guy that, you know, just hooked up with Seabiscuit.
Whatever he thought, the horse was thinking. And I know that sounds
farfetched, but I've lived it. I've climbed on horses who had bad records,
and, you know, I'd get on their back, and something happens, something
magical. And I think that, you know, that's exactly what happened with Red
Pollard and Seabiscuit.
BOGAEV: I want to talk to you about how jockeys communicate while racing on
the track, because I was watching the film, and in the film you play George
Woolf and Red Pollard is--they're racing and you talk to each other while
you're riding. You have a little conversation, and that seems so preposterous
to me. Can you talk or would you talk to another jockey during a race?
Mr. STEVENS: Well, I'll give you an example. I was racing at Del Mar
yesterday here in Southern California, and Pat Valenzuela, one of the leading
jockeys in the nation, came into the jockeys' room and he said, `Gary,' he
said, `I saw the film last night. I loved it. Congratulations,' so on and so
forth. And we went out for the first race, and it was a mile and three-eights
on the turf course, racing on the grass. And we both were on speed horses; we
knew that we were both going to be forwardly placed in the race. And we had
about three-quarters of a mile left to run in the race; we had just turned
into the back stretch, very similar to the opening scene with Tobey and I.
And Patrick was on the inside. We were going head and head, and he looked
over at me and he says, `I got 5 bucks says I beat you.' And I said, `I got 10
bucks says you don't have the 5 bucks to beat me.' And he started laughing,
and I looked over at him again and I said, `So you going tonight?' We
basically recited some lines that were in the film.
And we were both going way too fast for the distance of the race. I mean, we
couldn't slow our horses down; they were unmanageable. And I think he sensed
the same thing that I sensed, that we weren't going to be around at the
finish. Our horses were going to run out of gas before we turned in to the
home stretch. And, you know, we spend long, long days in the jockeys' room.
We have no season; it's a year-around sport. And we spend sometimes 16-,
17-hour days from the time we get up working horses until we go home at night.
And if we can lighten a situation up a little bit to make our day go a little
easier, we try and do it.
BOGAEV: Are there situations, though, or is there a code of honor among
jockeys about what you do communicate to each other during a race and what you
don't? For instance, you don't gang up on some...
Mr. STEVENS: Well, you're not going to hear a lot of communication in the
Kentucky Derby, I can tell you that right now. And you're not going to hear a
lot of communication through the final stretch in any race. The code of
ethics with us jockeys is when we go into a turn, a lot of times we've got a
blind spot. When I'm on the outside going into the turn and I've got somebody
up inside of me a half a length and I'm three horse widths off of the inside
rail and somebody has run up inside of that jockey, inside of me, I'm blinded
or obscured from that jockey who's run up inside of me. So if I'm traveling
at 46 miles an hour and I drop into the turn and I bump the horse inside of
me, those bumps aren't small; they're big bumps. And if the passageway that
that new jockey is trying to fill up is narrow and I take that space away from
him, there's going to be a bad wreck. So the jockey to the inside of me--it's
his job basically to let me know, `Hey, you don't have room to drop over,' or,
`I've got somebody running up inside of me,' you know, things like that.
BOGAEV: What part of your body when you're riding is actually touching, in
contact, with the horse?
Mr. STEVENS: My feet, obviously in the stirrups; the insides of my feet, all
the way up to about two inches below my knees on the inside of my legs, and my
hands. Those are the only parts of my body that are in contact during the
actual running of the race. I'm not sitting in the saddle. I'm balanced on
the balls of my feet. The classic style of an American jockey is to basically
stick his toes in the stirrups, the stirrup at an angle so the outside of the
stirrup is just above your little toe. Actually, you're riding on four toes
and the ball of your foot underneath your big toe, and that's it.
BOGAEV: So if that's all that's maintaining contact with the horse, what
keeps your balance? What keeps you in your seat?
Mr. STEVENS: Basically, anybody who's ever ridden a Jet Ski watercraft, it's
a lot the same. You keep your center of balance in the middle of the horse.
You keep your heels down and your weight perfectly balanced to where you don't
move. The ideal riding style, the way I was taught from my father, who never
rode a race and has never ridden a racehorse--but his ideal style of watching
a jockey was to be able to set a glass of champagne in the middle of his back
at 40 miles an hour and not spill a drop of that champagne. My job is to move
from my shoulders up. Only my arms are to move. Everything else has to sit
as quiet as a church mouse and just not interfere with the horse's action.
BOGAEV: And when you say `not interfere with the horse's action,' that means
once you've directed the horse to go a certain way, to either hold him back or
let him loose, but not to distract him?
Mr. STEVENS: My whole job is to make the horse happy. A happy horse performs
well for you; a mad horse won't perform for you. And the legendary jockey
Bill Shoemaker--I had the great chance to spend about 10 years riding with
him I was about, I guess, 21 years old, and he said, `The secret to being a
successful jockey is don't get in their way.' I've yet to see a loose horse
get beat in a race. When a jockey falls off at the start of a race, nine
times out of 10 the loose horse winds up winning the race going wide. I know
he's not packing the same weight that the rest of them are, but that horse's
true natural stride is getting him around the racetrack.
So if a horse is packing a sack of potatoes that is flopping all over the
place, a 50-pound sack of potatoes that's flopping everywhere, and then you
get another horse and you strap 50 pounds onto the horse's back that's not
moving, the one that's carrying the 50 pounds that's not moving is going to
win every time. So you just try and stay out of their way and sit as still as
you can. And when they start to tire, I become the horse's strength. That's
when I start picking their head up and pumping my arms and giving them the
confidence that I'm there with them. That's when it becomes a team effort.
BOGAEV: Well, it's interesting, in your memoir you write that, `A rider's
confidence in a horse can make the difference between winning big races and
getting beaten.' So how is that confidence communicated besides the obvious,
the shouting or, I guess, the whip?
Mr. STEVENS: I believe that there is a sixth sense that a horse has, and it's
almost a telepathy thing. When I have a great relationship with a racehorse,
I'm moving along and we're making split-second decisions. And nine times out
of 10, if a hole opens up on the rail for me, say I'm laying third and an
opportunity comes, and another opportunity happens at the same time to come
around, if I've had to think about the decision, `Am I going in, or am I going
out?'--it's too late. That hole is gone. So you react.
And nine times out of 10 the horses that I really have a good relationship
with, they're moving towards my decision at the exact same time that I'm
pointing that horse at that particular opportunity that I have. And, you
know, people have said over the years that horses are unintelligent; they're
stupid animals. To me, a horse is the most intelligent animal that there is
out there. When a horse doesn't respond to you, it's usually because you've
got some negative stuff going on, you know, inside or outside of the racing
BOGAEV: My guest is jockey Gary Stevens. He's a member of the Horse Racing
Hall of Fame, and he's won the Kentucky Derby three times. He plays star
jockey George Woolf in the new film "Seabiscuit." Stevens has also written
his autobiography. It's called "The Perfect Ride."
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, my guest is jockey Gary Stevens. He
appears in the new film "Seabiscuit" in the role of jockey George Woolf.
Stevens is a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and a member of the Horse
Racing Hall of Fame.
Now I'd think a race for you really starts before the race, when you first get
on the horse. Do you have to feel the horse out before the race and look for
clues about the animal's mood?
Mr. STEVENS: Yeah. I mean, that's more or less a trainer's job to let me
know--if I've never been on the horse for a morning workout or anything like
that, say I fly into New York to ride a big race on a horse I've never seen
before, you're a little bit of a hired gun. They're hiring me to come in and
ride this big race. I've never seen the horse before. But I do have access
to tapes of the horse's previous races. I've got the daily racing form, which
tells all of the horse's past performances, what his running style is. But I
rely on the trainer's knowledge to let me know if there's any idiosyncrasies
about the horse, things he doesn't like. I don't necessarily want to be told
how to ride the horse, but I want to know if he'll come through on the rail,
if he prefers to be on the outside, he doesn't like dirt in his face; you
know, don't be strong on his mouth, he's got a very light mouth. Those are
the things I want to know prior to riding the horse.
And once I'm legged up and I walk on the racetrack, you know, I've got 12
minutes to get to know that horse before I get to the starting gate. And
usually within about a minute and a half you've got a pretty good idea of that
horse's mental attitude, if he's an aggressive horse or if she's a laid-back
kind of horse, how she wants to be treated or how he wants to be treated. And
to me, 90 percent of winning the race is getting to the starting gate and
having that horse happy when I go into the stalls. If I've got a horse that's
upset and has not handled the pre-race warm-up well, then they normally
perform how they warm up. If they're in a bad mood or they get hot and
they're aggravated or something, whatever the reason may be, that's usually
how they race.
BOGAEV: Now you go into a race with a strategy, but I imagine once you're
racing, you have to evolve; your strategy has to change and adapt to
whatever's going on on the track, right? Do you end up going through two or
three strategies in a race?
Mr. STEVENS: It's very similar to the acting with "Seabiscuit." When you go
in to do a scene, the script is there, your lines are there for you. And
there are several different ways of saying those particular lines that may
imply different things. You may try and get a totally different point across
saying the exact same lines. And it all depends on what the director wants
from you is what he goes with, but you prepare for every one of those
And it's the same for me riding a horse race. I've got every horse in a
particular race--I've got all of those horses' past performances. And I've
done my homework prior to going out and riding the race; I know what all of my
competition--what their running styles are, and I know most of the other
jockeys, what their riding styles are. So I'll prepare for four, five
different scenarios in a given race. For instance, if I'm riding a horse that
likes to lay third or fourth two lengths off the lead, I'll pick out, you
know, a couple horses I think that are going to be in front of me. Well, one
of those horses that I think is going to be in front of me might stumble
leaving the gate and he's out of the race; that changes the whole makeup of
the race. My horse that I'm riding may be very keen that day; he may want to
show more speed than he has shown in the past, and I've got to be prepared for
BOGAEV: When trainers and jockeys talk about strategy, often they talk about
holding the horse back. You have to hold the horse back until you let the
horse break. Can you describe for us what that feels like. How much of your
energy during a race is devoted to holding the horse back?
Mr. STEVENS: A lot. You're basically--if that is what is required of the
particular horse. First of all, people need to understand that horses are
athletes, and if you can imagine a human being, a long-distance runner, racing
Carl Lewis--Carl Lewis running three miles. Well, Carl Lewis is going to win
the first hundred yards or hundred meters, obviously, but he's not going to be
around at the end of the marathon because he possibly--I shouldn't say that,
Carl, 'cause I don't know that. But you've got to ration your speed.
And a lot of the horses are very, very aggressive. I might be in a race that
is a mile and one-eighth, and my horse is very aggressive; he wants to show
all of his speed early on. The race is not won at the start; it's won at the
finish. So it's my job to ration that speed. And a lot of these horses are
very, very aggressive in their manner. And when a horse is pulling on you and
I'm using three fingers on each hand and I've got the reins in three fingers
is what I ride with, and when they pull, they pull. I've got calluses on my
hands that look like probably a bricklayer or a plumber or something like
that. And it tires you out if you've got one pulling. And then, you know,
you shift modes halfway through the race; you go from restraining to
encouraging. And anyone who has watched a big race on TV or has watched
"Seabiscuit," the last quarter of a mile is--it's a thing of beauty.
BOGAEV: Are you aware of the noise of the crowd at the home stretch?
Mr. STEVENS: No. Very, very rarely. If I'm winning a race very easily, say
I'm 10 lengths clear of the rest of the field, then I become aware of the
crowd. But one thing sticks out in my mind more than anything that's ever
happened in my career, and one of the greatest moments I've ever experienced
was the last 1/16th of a mile in the Kentucky Derby in 1988 when I won on the
filly Winning Colours. I think there were 128,000 people there that day, and
the last 1/16th of a mile took just over six seconds, and those six seconds
was like an eternity. And it was like slow motion, and I remember not being
able--I mean, hindsight, I can't remember hearing the crowd. I could hear my
horse breathing, I could hear myself breathing, but I couldn't hear the crowd.
And that was quite an experience to remember.
BOGAEV: Gary Stevens is a member of the Horse Racing Hall of Fame. He
appears in the new film "Seabiscuit" in the role of the Iceman, jockey George
Woolf. Stevens also has a memoir. It's called "The Perfect Ride." We'll
continue our conversation in the second half of the show. I'm Barbara Bogaev,
and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Coming up, jockey Gary Stevens lists his racing-related injuries. In
1999 he retired briefly because of chronic knee pain. He has a role in the
new film "Seabiscuit." And we remember dancer and actor Gregory Hines, who
died Saturday at the age of 57.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Let's continue our interview with jockey Gary Stevens. He plays the role of
the flamboyant jockey George Woolf in the new film "Seabiscuit." Stevens has
three Kentucky Derby wins to his credit, riding Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm
and Winning Colours. In 1997, he was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.
His memoir about his career in horse racing is called "The Perfect Ride."
How many injuries have you had? Could you catalog them for us?
Mr. STEVENS: Wow. I've had both shoulders reconstructed, screws in each
shoulder from subluxing dislocations, if you will, and rotator cuff injuries;
right knee operated on 11 times, left knee three times; shattered right wrist
with a plate and six screws in it; broken ankle; broken clavicle on each side
four times. Tell me when to stop. I could go on and on. I've been busted up
quite a bit.
BOGAEV: Well, what was your worst accident?
Mr. STEVENS: 1985, actually, a morning workout accident, a lot like Red
Pollard suffered just prior to the big match race in 1938. I was doing a
favor for a friend in the morning. An old trainer had two or three horses,
and I had really just started to reach the upper echelon of the racing scene,
and an old buddy of mine asked me if I'd work this horse in the morning. And
I went to the starting gate at--it was about 8:00 in the morning I guess. And
it was a young horse, and with young horses, you have to get them approved out
of the starting gate by a racing official before they can race their first
out, so I was getting this young horse approved out of the gate. And we came
out of the gate, and my horse just made a left-hand turn with me after about,
oh, probably 50 yards, and she was already at top speed when she did this.
And she hit the rail with her chest, head on, and it catapulted me into the
rail, and I woke up about 18 hours later with my arm in a sling, my leg in a
splint, and I didn't know where I was, what had happened. And after about 20
minutes of me waking up, the doctor asked me if I knew what had happened. I
said, `Yeah, my horse made a heft-hand hurn out of the hate.' And he looked
at my wife at the time and said, `Does your husband have a speech impediment?'
And she said, `He never did before.' And that's the most scared I've ever
been in my life. I couldn't talk. My shoulder was completely torn apart, and
my right knee was basically destroyed. And they told me I would never ride
again, and I was back in the saddle five months later.
BOGAEV: Do you feel fear when you're riding?
Mr. STEVENS: No. I would be lying if I said that we don't think about it.
I've had good friends killed. Laffit Pincay, winningest jockey of all time
and one of the greatest athletes of all time as far as I'm concerned, was just
forced into retirement after just an incredible career. He had a terrible
fall in February and broke his neck, was in a halo for three and a half
months. And the doctors basically told him if he suffered another fall like
he had, he was either going to die, or he was going to be a quadriplegic. So
I think all of our biggest fear is not really death, but paralysis. But as I
said before, you take educated risks. You don't do anything stupid, and you
don't want to surround yourself around stupid jockeys, because if the guy in
front of you does something stupid, and he falls, it's a chain reaction, you
know. If the guys kills himself by doing something stupid, that's fine if
he's an idiot. But don't take five of my friends with you, pal. So use your
head when you're out there, you know. That's kind of our thinking when we go
out to ride a race.
BOGAEV: So it sounds like you have fears when you're not on the track in a
quiet moment or I don't know when, but once you're racing, that's not the
emotion that you experience.
Mr. STEVENS: Yeah, I mean, there's a scene in the film where I'm going in to
see Red Pollard after he's had this horrible accident. And the look on my
face when I'm walking into the hospital is, even to myself watching it, a
pretty disturbing look. I won't go to a hospital. I've spent a huge amount
of time in my life in a hospital, and I hate the smell of a hospital. I don't
like to see a person in pain, especially a friend or a colleague, and everyone
knows that. And I'm not the only. There are several guys, jockeys, that just
as a superstition, whatever, `I won't go in a hospital to see a jockey that's
fallen. I might go in there to see Grandma or Mom and Dad, but I'm not going
into the hospital to see a jock that has fallen. Bad karma.'
BOGAEV: Well, how much pain are you in when you ride?
Mr. STEVENS: I retired in 1999 because of my knee pain. And, you know, I was
taken care of by the best orthopedic surgeons in the United States time and
time again. And I kept watching these football games, and they'd say, `So and
so has had arthroscopic surgery on his knee. He's going to be back in 14
days,' and this and that. So I'd get these arthroscopic surgeries, go in and
clean out some meniscus. Basically, you go in for a jiffy lube. They're
cleaning out the knee, and you're back in action in three weeks. And I
believed that. I just really never ever gave myself a chance to heal up.
Being at the competitive business that it is, there are 20 other guys out
there that have as much talent as I do ridingwise, and so I'm going to protect
my business. Every day that I miss, I'm missing mounts and a possible Derby
contender. So you don't want to be gone. And I would rush back as soon as I
could without healing up properly. And when I retired in '99, it was just
because of chronic knee pain, degenerative arthritis in my right knee.
And after my retirement, I started a whole new rehab program for my knees, and
I was out for 11 months, and I came back. And I've cut down on the number of
mounts that I ride every year. I try and hold it every week. I used to ride
35, 40 races a week, and now I ride, a busy week, maybe 15 races a week. So
I've cut back dramatically, and I try and just ride the best races in the
country instead of riding every day. And you know, as long as I can do that,
my career's going to last a little bit longer, and I can deal with the little
bit of pain that I have on the odd day, but same thing. You can deal with a
little bit of pain. Then when you're coming through the stretch, riding a
horse, you feel this power, and their stride is 22 feet long, it makes you
forget about the pain.
BOGAEV: Gary Stevens, who plays the role of jockey George Woolf in the new
film "Seabiscuit." His memoir is called "The Perfect Ride." More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Back now to my interview with horse racing Hall of Famer Gary Stevens.
He plays the role of jockey George Woolf in the new film "Seabiscuit."
Can I ask you what you weigh when you're racing?
Mr. STEVENS: A hundred and 13 pounds is what I weigh dripping wet when I'm
racing. I've got the day off today, and I weigh about a hundred and seventeen
BOGAEV: So how many times a day do you weigh yourself?
Mr. STEVENS: I weigh myself when I wake up and when I go to bed on my days
off. When I'm racing, I'm required to weigh before every race that I ride.
And same thing. I weigh myself when I get up. I weigh myself when I go to
the locker room. And if I've got to pull some weight, get in the sauna or
whatever, I'll do that and periodically check my weight during my sauna
session. If I've got to drop a pound and a half, I'll sit in there until the
pound and a half is dropped. But I'm required to weigh before and after every
race that I ride to show that I've carried the exact same weight that is
required. When I walk out of the jockey's room, when I come back in, I've got
to weigh the same weight with my equipment included. And the last thing I do
when I leave the jockey's room is I weigh myself again. And before I go to
bed, I weigh myself again. So I don't know, what's that? Maybe 15, 20 times
a day of crossing the scales.
BOGAEV: Well, all athletes who have to meet their weight, wrestlers and, of
course, jockeys, they resort to all sorts of techniques. What are your
techniques to keep the weight off?
Mr. STEVENS: When I get up in the morning, I have a cup of coffee, usually
have a bagel, something like that. I go to the race track. I work horses.
And working out the horses, I usually lose from two to three pounds, which
allows me to eat a decent lunch. I don't like eating any sooner than an hour
before I ride. And I just try and keep myself full of fluids throughout the
day when I'm racing. And if I've ridden five or six races, I've usually lost
another two pounds, and I'm pretty much able to eat what I want to at night.
You know, you get to a certain stage in life, and it becomes easier. I mean,
my body has adapted to, you know, eating less. I'm very, very healthy. When
I retired in 1999, I got up to, I think, a hundred and thirty-one pounds, and
I was so uncomfortable. I was sluggish. I didn't have any energy. And I got
back down to, like a hundred and twenty-one was where I was most comfortable.
And you know, I hated being overweight. And I have very little body fat, and
therefore, I've got a lot of energy, and I feel like going all the time.
BOGAEV: I'm talking with jockey Gary Stevens.
Now you grew up on a farm in Boise, Idaho. Your father had a training barn.
Were you just constantly with the horses as a kid?
Mr. STEVENS: No, not really. I had a bad fall when I was six years old on
one of my mother's horses, and I was actually scared to death of horses from,
like, age six until I guess I was about 11. And my brother, Scott, who's
older than me and is also a professional jockey in the Midwest, I idolized
him. He taught me everything I know about riding. And he had just started to
ride races, and `Boy, that looks fun. That looks like something I would want
to do.' And I got on one of my dad's race horses at, you know, the
recommendation from my brother to my father, said, `Hey, this horse is easy to
get on in the morning. He'll teach Gary something.' And I felt the strength
and the power of this thoroughbred race horse. His name was Golden Ribbon,
and I was hooked. That was it. I knew what I wanted to do.
BOGAEV: Well, you left home at 16. You didn't finish school to start racing
competitively. Why were you in such a rush?
Mr. STEVENS: I guess being naive, I don't know. If I had it to do over
again, even with the way that my career has turned out, had I known how lucky
I was going to have to be to get the breaks that I've been given or earned or
however you want to say it, and look back at the injuries and everything else,
there's no way that I would have chosen this path. I'm glad I did choose it,
but had I not been naive and thought that things were--I just assumed
everything was going to turn out great. I've always been a positive thinker.
And when you start out as a professional jockey, you start it at the age of
16. You get your apprenticeship at 16, and you keep your apprenticeship for
100 wins or a year, which ever comes last. And so I had my apprenticeship for
a year and became a full-fledged professional jockey, but you never know.
People thought I was going to get too big to be a jockey. You don't know how
long you're going to last, and you're ready for it. You just pursue it.
That's what I did.
BOGAEV: Funny Cide was the famous horse that everyone was rooting for this
year. Now you rode in the Belmont Stakes with Funny Cide. You weren't on
Funny Cide. You were riding a horse called Scrimshaw, but did a part of your
heart root for Funny Cide? Does that happen?
Mr. STEVENS: You know, I've been in that same situation. I was riding Silver
Charm in 1997, going for the Triple Crown win, and one of my best friends beat
me in the final strides, Chris McCarron. He beat me on a horse named Wild
Rush. And the following year, as close as I've ever come to the perfect ride
was at Belmont Stakes, Real Quiet, owned by one of my best friends, Mike
Pegram, was going for the Triple Crown. And it was a $5 million bonus, and,
you know, I'd been in that situation the year before with Silver Charm. And
you go out there, and if I can be the one to spoil it--it's really sick, but
if I can be the one that spoils it, I want to be the spoiler. But if I can't
be the one to win, then I'm definitely rooting for history to be made. And I
wind up beating my best friend's horse in the last stride, and it wasn't even
the money. It was the chance at history, and it was bittersweet for me. I
mean, I loved winning. It was a great payday, but it wasn't about the money.
It was about a chance like Funny Cide had this year. And I'll tell you the
same thing happened this year. When I walked out of the jock's room, I wished
Jose Santos good luck, and I said, `Pal, if I don't beat you, I hope you win
it.' I said, `I'd love to see history made,' so, yeah, I guess we root a
BOGAEV: I have to ask you this. Do you ride for pleasure?
Mr. STEVENS: No. No, I do not. And I might like it, but, you know, I've
been doing this for 23 years, and the last thing I want to do on my day off is
go get on a horse and do it for pleasure. I suppose if, you know, it was
beautiful scenery, and I was in the right company, I would like it. But my
days off, I mount up on my Harley-Davidson motorcycle and take off on that
kind of journey.
BOGAEV: That's that much different, huh?
Mr. STEVENS: Yeah. Horsepower. Still horsepower, though. Different kind of
BOGAEV: Well, Gary Stevens, I want to thank you very much for talking today.
Mr. STEVENS: Barbara, thank you. I enjoyed it.
BOGAEV: Gary Stevens' memoir is called "The Perfect Ride." He's in the new
film "Seabiscuit" in the role of jockey George Woolf.
Coming up, we remember dancer and actor Gregory Hines. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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Interview: Gregory Hines discusses his tap dancing career
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
Gregory Hines, who many consider to have been the greatest tap dancer of his
generation, died this weekend of cancer at the age of 57.
(Soundbite of music and tap dancing)
Mr. GREGORY HINES (As Jelly Roll Morton): (Singing) Oh, yeah.
BOGAEV: That's Gregory Hines as Jelly Roll Morton in "Jelly's Last Jam,"
which earned him a Tony Award in 1992. Hines was admired for his elegance,
virtuosity and charm as a performer on stage and screen. He carried on the
tradition of earlier tap dancers, such as Jimmy Slyde and Sammy Davis Jr. On
Broadway, he sang and danced on the shows "Eubie!," "Coming Uptown" and
"Sophisticated Ladies." His films included "White Nights," "Tap," "Cotton
Club" and the Mel Brooks film, "History of the World-Part 1." And he had a
recent recurring role in the sitcom "Will & Grace."
Gregory Hines made his professional debut as a child, performing with his
older brother, Maurice Jr. Their act was the Hines Kids. Terry Gross
interviewed Gregory Hines in 1989.
TERRY GROSS, host:
You started dancing when you were five. What got you started?
Mr. HINES: My parents gave my brother, Maurice, and I tap lessons, I think,
like parents give their children piano or saxophone, just something to round
them out. And in those days, this is, like, the late '40s, I actually began
at 2 1/2. You know, I can't imagine what I was doing at 2 1/2, probably just
hopping up and down, but this is the family legend. I don't really remember
Mr. HINES: And we took group classes at the local tap school. Somebody came
by offering free lessons, and we got involved. And we liked it, and we seemed
to show a little ability, so at that point, my parents found Henry LeTang, who
then really taught us how to dance.
GROSS: Whose idea was it for you to perform professionally at such a young
age? Was five the age when you started actually performing?
Mr. HINES: Yes. I think that it was just a group decision, Henry and my
parents and, I suppose, some of the members of the family. In those days,
tap dancing was still very highly respected and an area that a lot of people
wanted to be in. And The Nicholas Brothers were big stars at that time, and
it was Henry's contention that we would be the second coming of The Nicholas
Brothers. And, in fact, my brother and I patterned ourselves after them. I
latched onto Harold, and my brother used his hands and danced like Fayard, and
so we just started working. I mean, there was work, and, you know, we were
cute, and we could dance, and we enjoyed it.
GROSS: Did you do acrobatics like The Nicholas Brothers?
Mr. HINES: A little bit, but in no way did we compare to The Nicholas
Brothers in terms of the kind of acrobatic things that they were doing. We
did some flips and some knee drops we called them in those days. That's where
one leg is straight, and the other leg is slightly bent. Nicholas Brothers
used to do complete splits, but our style wasn't into the acrobatics. We were
more tap, mostly tap and a lot of syncopated combinations.
GROSS: When you were performing as a child, who kept the money?
Mr. HINES: What money?
GROSS: You didn't make money when you were performing?
Mr. HINES: Well, we made money, but not much. I mean, in those days, you
know, there really wasn't much money, and it was beginning to diminish as we
were performing, because tap dancing was beginning to go out, so there really
wasn't a lot of money. I think some of those early jobs, maybe we made $25
for, you know, what was known as a club date. I remember New Year's Eve was a
big night, and that performers would get paid double. So maybe New Year' Eve,
we'd get $50 for a club date, but there really wasn't a lot of money.
GROSS: Was tap something that set you apart when you were a kid in school?
Mr. HINES: Not really. Because we were professionals and, from time to time,
had to go on the road to work, we went to professional children's schools. So
I went to school with people like Patty Duke and Sal Mineo, you know...
GROSS: No kidding? Really?
Mr. HINES: ...and Sandra Dee. Yeah, and so, you know, we were just another
professional, you know. We were just in school with, you know, kids that
GROSS: Now you did "The Ed Sullivan Show" when you were pretty young, right?
Mr. HINES: Yes.
GROSS: How did he introduce you? What did he say?
Mr. HINES: You know, I don't remember. The only thing I remember about that
is that in those days, we used to wear a lot of grease on our hair, because
the only way to get respect in those days was to have slicked down hair. And
I remember after one of the shows, you know, we did our number, and we came
over, and Ed thanked us, and we took a bow, and he actually put his hand on my
head. And I remember just for a moment the shocked look on his face when he
realized that he had at least an ounce of grease on his hands. And I thought,
`Well, this is it. We'll never be on this show again.'
GROSS: And were you?
Mr. HINES: Actually, we did it one more time, but he didn't put his hand on
my head the second time.
GROSS: You had been dancing with your brother for many years. When you were
18, your father joined the act, and the act was named Hines, Hines and Dad.
At the age of 18, would you have preferred to be on your own with just your
brother? Were you glad that your father joined?
Mr. HINES: I was. I was. And at that point, my father had been a musician
for years, and he would be traveling in one direction, and my brother and I
and my mother would be traveling in another direction, professionally. And my
father wanted the family to be together. And also, he felt that he wanted to
show a family working together in a cohesive way. This was during the time
when the black family was coming under a lot of scrutiny. And, you know, this
was way before the Huxtables, where people, you know, had images where they
could feel good about the black family and good about themselves. And so
Hines, Hines and Dad was really my father's dream in a way, and I liked it,
you know. I enjoyed it. Those were good years.
BOGAEV: Gregory Hines speaking with Terry Gross in 1989. He died on Saturday
at the age of 57. Here he is as Jelly Roll Morton in the 1992 show "Jelly's
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. HINES (As Jelly Roll Morton): (Singing) I'm telling you, in my day, this
man was made of money. You know it, yeah. In my day, these hands were
dripping of honey. I'd flash them that savoir faire and toss them a smile.
What your folks call style, I used to call the ...(unintelligible) you learn
to use it. In my day, this man came up with a sound. And incidentally, in my
day, it got to getting around.
Group: (Singing) The highfalutin to a hole in the ground.
Mr. HINES (As Jelly Roll Morton): (Singing) 'Cause I will do, yeah, as good
as that. Mr. Mozart would have tipped his hat. Believe me when I say that I
was something in my day, really something in my day.
Group: (Singing) They called him Creole loins. He got the jelly joints...
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
BOGAEV: On the next FRESH AIR, we meet two directors of new independent
films. Peter Mullan wrote and directed "The Magdalene Sisters," and Niki Caro
directed and adapted the screenplay for "Whale Rider." I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
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