Apprentice Rider T.C. Stevens to Ride First Race on Sunday at Fair Grounds
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Contact: Kevin Kilroy
Notes Writer/Media Relations
At age 38, Gary Stevens’ son will continue to gallop for the Cox barn while making this career move
New Orleans, La (March 18, 2023) – At age 38, longtime exercise rider T.C. Stevens has made the bold career move to become a jockey. An exciting and emotional time to say the least, especially for the son of Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. Especially for a father who wants to do best by his family and share some of the magic he felt as a child with his son.
T.C.’s first mount comes on Sunday in Race 6 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Working to get in race shape, his story over the past few months has been similar to many new apprentice riders. He’s heightened his fitness, sharpened his technique, lost the necessary weight, and proven himself to racing officials.
“I feel like I’m a different person for the better since I started working to become a jockey,” T.C. said. “People who have known me for a long time tell me they can see it in my eyes. I’m 38 but I feel like I’ve really grown up and matured being down here (at Fair Grounds), working for Brad (Cox) and now the last six weeks on this journey.”
Though T.C. Stevens is not the oldest apprentice jockey in the history of the sport, he’s close. Still, he has the work ethic and hunger you’d expect of a younger jock. His drive, the caliber of horses he’s been breezing in the morning, and his support team of friends and family differentiates him from the pack.
If you’re around the racetrack in the morning watching the Brad Cox barn standouts, then you might know him as simply T.C., the charismatic guy who breezes Tapit’s Conquest, Instant Coffee, Hit Show, Strobe, Zozos and others.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Brad (Cox),” T.C. said. “Brad allowed me to take my riding to a new level. He put trust in me and gave me confidence I didn’t know I could have. He’s been instrumental in getting me to this point.”
If you’ve peeked your head into the jockey’s room over the past couple months, you might know him as the disciplined and focused pilot aboard the exercise horse.
“With my dad being a jockey, we always had an Equicizer in the house,” T.C. said. “I never sat on it with more intent other than just messing around until I made the decision to become a jockey.”
An Equicizer is a mechanical exercise horse, designed to give jockeys a warm-up, a workout, and to help build their strength. T.C. made the decision to pursue his dream last January, and when he began mounting up and videoing his efforts to watch back and learn from, he came to one humble conclusion.
“I watched my first attempt on the Equicizer and said to myself, ‘man I’m bad,’” T.C. said.
Hard work and a new determination kept T.C. coming back.
“I go into the jockeys room and ride the hair off that Equicizer,” T.C. said. “So much so that last week, Corey (Lanerie) told me ‘T.C., you need to give that Equicizer a walk day. You rubbed all the hair off his sides, his ears are dripping.’”
It paid off. He’s got his apprentice license with the condition that he rides two successful races before the Fair Grounds meet ends on Sunday, March 26.
“My backs flatter, my forms better, my elbows are in, I’ve got the rhythm of the horse,” T.C. said. “Instead of trying to make the horse move with me, I’m moving with the horse. I’ve prepared myself as much as I can for my first race without having already ridden. There’s nothing I haven’t done. I realize there’s a lot I don’t know and there’s going to be a long learning curve. I’ve galloped horses for 13 years. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m confident in my heart that I’m ready.”
T.C. has one of his two mounts lined up. Getting the call from owner and trainer Steve Asmussen, he is set to ride Motown Missile, a 20-1 shot who will break from the rail on Sunday.
“When I found out who I’d be riding, I immediately got choked up,” T.C. said. “Before I started working for the Cox barn, the best horse I ever galloped was a horse named Mo Town (Motown Missile’s sire). I rode that horse every day of his 2-year-old season when he won the Remsen.”
This is one of many moving moments for T.C. Stevens on his journey from being an exercise rider to becoming a jockey. An emotional road for anyone, but maybe more so for someone who carries with them all the memories of watching his father, listening to him and other riders in the jockey’s locker room, wondering as children do whether they might follow in their parent’s footsteps.
“On Sundays, we used to go to church and go to the races,” T.C. said. “At church we used to sit with Laz Barrera, who was a big supporter of my dad’s. We called him Grandpa Laz. I didn’t know how big a deal he was, that he trained Affirmed and won the Triple Crown. He would give my sister and I a dollar each week when we saw him. After my dad rode his races, I always walked in the jocks’ room with him, and he had a valet named Jessie, who would put a penny in my penny loafers. The nicest man. My dad would put shampoo in his hair, he’d go for a shower, come back and get dressed, and we would ride home together. I remember how the car smelled, all that stuff. I can’t wait for my kid to experience that because it’s neat. It’s very special to me.”
And now as a father himself, T.C. recognizes how special this could be for his 7-year-old son, Trip.
“On Sunday morning we’re going to have a little moment,” T.C. said. “I grew up in the jocks’ room and I’m going to bring my son in there just for a little bit to see. I can’t wait for my kid to experience it because it’s neat. It’s very special to me. My kid has always been proud of me, but I can’t wait for this. He can go to school and say my dad’s a jockey.”
Beyond the gift of experiencing life in the jocks’ room on a race day, there’s the financial opportunity that being a jockey offers over being an exercise rider.
“I’m doing this not only because I’ve always had a dream to ride races, but I want to provide a better life for my family.,” T.C. said. “I want to win big races. Might I not? Yeah. Might I end up riding at a small track? That’s still fine. I can still do better (financially) at a small track riding races than I can galloping horses. I’m excited for it all and I feel so blessed to at least have a chance to earn more for my family.”
T.C. is forward about the role others have played in getting him here. A longtime friend and journeyman jockey, Joe Rocco Jr. broke his hand this winter at Turfway Park coming out of the gate. After time off to heal, he came down to Fair Grounds to get fit and he and T.C. rekindled their friendship.
“Joe Rocco’s embraced me,” T.C. said. “Besides my wife he’s become my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t be here without Joe Rocco.”
Several of the top riders and standout mentors in the Fair Grounds’ jockey colony have been there to help along the way, too.
“Joe Rocco has been the most instrumental jockey in this but James Graham is a close second,” T.C. said. “ I picked up diet advice from James. He’s always been a tremendous friend of mine. He and his wife coached me up when I started galloping and he’s coached me up now. And then there’s Florent Geroux who got me in the room and still supports me. Flo was one of the first people to support me.”
As grateful as T.C. is for this opportunity and the support of so many, it’s his wife Jaime Stevens who he has leaned on the most.
“God gave me the best gift ever and it’s not doing this (becoming a jockey), it’s my wife,” T.C. said. “She’s my biggest supporter. She’s the hardest worker, she’s always positive. Everyone loves her. She’s the best. The greatest person I’ve ever met. She’s been holding down the fort, taking care of our kid, our house, bills, and she works a full-time job. When I finally got the okay to be a jockey from Mark Guidry (Fair Grounds’ steward and ex-jockey), I called her crying and she said ‘I never doubted you.’ It’s that belief. Along this journey she’s said what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it.”
T.C.’s first race is Sunday’s headliner, a first-level allowance featuring three triple Crown-nominated 3-year-olds in Bishops Bay and Demolition Duke from the Cox barn and First Defender from the Asmussen barn.
“The funny thing is Brad has got two horses in the race and I ride Bishops Bay regularly,” T.C. said. “Demolition Duke I’ve worked multiple times. I know those horses. I’ve watched all the replays of all the horses. I know I’m going to be very prepared for the races because I’ve seen my father do it. What my dad doesn’t know is growing up I was like a sponge and I sat and listened to him tell stories and give advice to people and at the time I didn’t know that he was giving that advice to me. It’s all still in my head and now I get to use it and I am very excited to show people. There’s things I learned from my father that people are going to see. And he’s going to see. And that’s going to be special.”
As all the childhood memories and dreams of what’s to come for him and his family flood in, at the center of it all is an apprentice jock, wiser with his age and fueled by his willingness to step out of the morning breeze and into the pressure and attention of riding races.
“Nothing’s happened yet,” T.C. said. “I understand that I haven’t accomplished anything yet, besides the goal of getting a mount in my first race. I’m looking forward to it all but right now I’m focused on two days–today and tomorrow.”
About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots
Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, one of the nation’s oldest racetracks, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds, which is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN), also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 15 off-track betting parlors throughout Southeast Louisiana. The 151st Thoroughbred Racing Season – highlighted by the 110th running of the Louisiana Derby – will run from Nov 18, 2022 through March 26, 2023. More information is available online at www.fairgroundsracecourse.com.