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Midnight Ballet, Stevens scheduled to ship for Rachel Alexandra
Trainer Tom Proctor confirmed Saturday from his wintertime base of operations in Southern California that he plans on shipping Midnight Ballet to New Orleans to contest the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra on February 23 as part of the Louisiana Derby Preview Day, and also that newly unretired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens would be coming to Fair Grounds for the mount on the filly.
Prior to his most recent retirement from the saddle, Stevens had won three Kentucky Derbies, two Preakness Stakes, three Belmont Stakes and eight Breeders' Cup races, and in 1993, Stevens became the youngest jockey in history to surpass $100 million in purse earnings.
During his recent retirement, Stevens returned to acting, playing the part of a jockey whose best days were behind him on the 2011 HBO television series "Luck," and previously, the 49-year-old native of Idaho had played the part of the late Hall of Fame jockey George Woolf in the 2003 movie "Seabiscuit."
Ironically, Stevens won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1996, one year before Stevens was himself inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga in 1997.
Also in recent years, Stevens has served as a television personality and sports anchor for HRTV and as a horse racing analyst for NBC Sports.
Stevens, who returned to the saddle last month ending a seven-year retirement, won his first race since 2005 on the Tom Proctor-trained Branding on January 12, but their trainer-jockey association goes back many years.
Surely on the short list of Stevens' greatest riding performances was his win in the 1994 Breeders' Cup Distaff aboard One Dreamer who, like Branding, was trained by Proctor.
One Dreamer was a front-running mare who had, some weeks earlier, lost Arlington's Grade 1 Beverly D. when caught in the final strides. To most handicappers, that was an indication that she would not be able to get the nine-furlong distance of the Distaff, so One Dreamer was sent off as a 47-1 longshot in the race.
However, with the newly-named Stevens aboard, the chart footnote of the Distaff said One Dreamer was "taken in hand while showing the way on an easy lead, expanded her lead suddenly on the second turn, settled into the stretch while coming further off the inside and held sway under brisk urging."
That "brisk urging" by Stevens for One Dreamer's neck tally rewarded her backers with a $96.20 win mutuel, and those in the Churchill Downs stands and television viewers around the world were treated to a view of her proud exercise rider Pete Garrett directing a series of sweeping bows to the crowd all the way up the stretch as he led the mare back to the barn.
"This filly isn't like that," Proctor said, speaking of Midnight Ballet. "She likes to come from out of it, and I thought that long quarter-mile stretch run at Fair Grounds would suit her just fine. She's a nice filly and she's still developing. I gave her 30 days off after her last race (a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on December 8) and now she's doing really well lately.
"I'll put a couple of more works into her out here and I'll send her over there to New Orleans on February 21," Proctor said of the Midnight Lute filly. "(Assistant trainer) Aimee Dollase will travel with her.
"As for Gary," the horseman concluded, "I've been watching him since he's come back and I think he looks just as good riding now as he ever did."
Interestingly, the Rachel Alexandra serves as the designed prep for the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on Louisiana Derby Day, March 30, and by the time that race comes around, and if Midnight Ballet and her jockey return for that encounter, Stevens will be 50 years old.
Stevens won the Rachel Alexandra in 1999 aboard Hall of Fame filly Silverbulletday when the race was still known as the Davona Dale Stakes. They would go on to take the Fair Grounds Oaks and the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks during that Eclipse Award-winning season.