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Stevens adds gem to crown of jewels Hall of Famer ends 0-for-8 here with 'greatest race'; Winning jockey

Before yesterday, there was only one major omission on jockey Gary Stevens' resume.

Stevens had won the Kentucky Derby three times and the Belmont Stakes once, ridden four winners in the Breeders' Cup and earlier this month was elected to the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame.

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But the Idaho native had gone 0-for-8 with previous Preakness mounts, finishing third five times, including last year on Editor's Note.

That all changed at Pimlico yesterday, when Stevens got Silver Charm to stick his head in front of Free House in a stirring stretch duel, with favored Captain Bodgit only another head behind.

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"This was the greatest race I've ever been involved with," Stevens told ABC sportscaster Jim McKay. "After winning the Derby, this was the icing on the cake. It's been a dream of mine to win the Triple Crown. I'd love to see it."

Stevens was the first member of the winning team to head for New York, where Silver Charm will try to win the Belmont on June 7 to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Stevens, 34, skipped the customary post-race media interview and received a police escort to Baltimore-Washington International Airport to make a 7: 20 p.m. connection to New York, where his fiancee is graduating from drama school.

In the last half-mile of the race, Stevens closed ground on Free House, the leader with Kent Desormeaux aboard. In the last furlong, they ran head-to-head.

"Kent Desormeaux was riding a great tactical race, and I didn't want him to get too far in front of us," Stevens said. "In the last hundred yards, I got up to within a nose of Free House, but I couldn't get in front of him. Thank goodness for Captain Bodgit coming up on my hip, because when he did, Silver Charm gave me another burst of energy."

Stevens almost missed out on riding the Triple Crown candidate. Only Chris McCarron's decision to ride Hello led to Stevens' being teamed with Silver Charm and trainer Bob Baffert before the Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

Baffert thought of giving Stevens some pre-race instructions yesterday, particularly on how to handle the sandy Pimlico surface. And then the trainer quickly caught himself.

"Why am I telling you?" he asked the jockey. "Just go out and do what you want to do. I know you'll get the job done."

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Pub Date: 5/18/97


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