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The Inside Track with Gary Stevens

Gary Stevens plays the veteran jockey Ronnie Jenkins on 'Luck.' He's also a Hall of Fame jockey and a horse racing analyst on television. In episode three, Jenkins takes a spill, and here Stevens explains what happened.

HBO:

What causes Ronnie to fall during the race?

Gary Stevens:

Another rider runs up to a spot where he doesn't really belong. He gets in trouble and panics. He tries to make room for himself so he doesn't make contact with the horse in front of him and get dropped himself. In doing so, he makes a quick and drastic move to the outside, towards my horse, knocking him off balance, which knocks me off of my horse.

HBO:

Is there a term for that kind of maneuver?

Gary Stevens:

What we'd call it is a dumbass maneuver. But what you'd say is, "I got dropped," or "you dropped another jockey." It may not be on purpose, and in this case, it wasn't. It was a case of a jockey protecting himself, but putting another jockey in danger. The fall could have been a lot worse than it was. I wasn't struck by a trailing horse or anything like that.

HBO:

What is the communication like between the riders during a race? Is there a lot of trash talking?

Gary Stevens:

There isn't really any trash talking. The communication is very much like what you see in this episode. Ronnie says to the other jockey, "What the fuck are you doing here, jock?" And the other guy is screaming that he needs help. If he'd allowed me just two more strides, I could've given him the room he needed, but he panicked. It would've cost me all chance of winning the race, but sometimes you have to sacrifice to protect other riders.

HBO:

Is that something that happens a lot?

Gary Stevens:

It is, but all the rules change when the prize money gets higher. This was pretty much just an everyday type of race, without much stake money at risk. But the bigger prize money, the bigger the race, the more things tighten up and the less likely you are to give another jockey an out. It's like driving down the freeway, and the guy in the left-hand lane needs to make an exit. If you're not in a hurry, you give him a shot, but if you have to get somewhere, you'd be a lot less likely to let him make his exit.

HBO:

How much of the race strategy comes from the trainer as opposed to the jockey? Who's calling the shots?

Gary Stevens:

The trainer is always calling the shots, but the good ones know that certain things will happen during a race. They'll give you instructions on what they would like you to do, but in the end, they say, "Look, if you have to call an audible, do it." Race riding is about 90 percent reaction to what's going on around you. You have to make split section decisions, almost like a quarterback in the NFL. If your receiver is covered, you have to go to the open guy. In race riding, if one of my options gets taken away then I have to think quickly to find another place to go and put myself in a position to win.

ronnie-jenkins

HBO:

What does this injury mean for Ronnie's career?

Gary Stevens:

Ronnie's getting towards the end of the career, and it's getting harder and harder for him to get good mounts. He's trying to get positive and get back in the swing of things, and he falls on his first ride back of his comeback. It's very depressing, especially when you're riding a horse you think might be a future superstar.

HBO:

Is his injury a common one?

Gary Stevens:

A broken collar bone to a jock is like breaking your finger. It's a very common injury and you come back from it fairly quick. It's painful, but after about four and a half to five weeks it feels like it heals up overnight. The pains gone and you can get back into action, but you've still got to prove yourself.

HBO:

We see in this episode Walter is disappointed when he ends up with the number one post position. Why is that?

Gary Stevens:

In Mr. Smith's eyes, the one post position is not an ideal place to be on a horse without much seasoning. The reason for that is that you can get shuffled back in a race. If you're on a horse whose style is to come from off the pace, a closer, and another horse gets in front of you and another on the side, you can wind up getting shuffled back and out of contention.  The one post is really undesirable, unless you're on a horse that has brilliant speed out of the gate.

HBO:

Can a poor pole position be overcome?

Gary Stevens:

It depends on the horse and the distance. If you're running for a mile or over, it's a two turn race. The idea is to travel less ground to conserve energy, so it can be a beneficial place to be at times. But in this case, it's not ideal for an inexperienced horse.

Episode 3