By Ben Everill
ARCADIA, California, Nov 2 (Reuters) - It was fitting an old classic won the Classic at the Breeders Cup racing festival on Saturday as 50-year-old jockey Gary Stevens backed up his impressive first day victory in the Distaff on Beholder with a sublime ride on Mucho Macho Man.
Stevens was riding against a much younger crowd at Santa Anita on Saturday in the $5million premier race, including two jockeys who were not born when he won his first Breeders' Cup event in 1990, but the old hand guided his thoroughbred to the winners circle to cap a brilliant comeback year.
Having retired in 2005 with thousands of wins including three Kentucky Derby victories, Stevens returned to racing this year and had recorded multiple wins, including the Preakness Stakes on Oxbow, the Zenyatta Stakes on Beholder and the Awesome Again Stakes on Mucho Macho Man.
Now he has more silverware in the cabinet to cap it all off, including the elusive Classic.
"It's sweet to go all these years and not have won it, and then seven years off and come back with a horse like this for these people. It's just so cool, man. It's awesome," Stevens said after holding off a fast finishing Will Take Charge.
"I had never won a Breeders' Cup Classic. I'd been so close so many times and I figured it just wasn't meant to be."
The Hall of Famer could have had a third win in the carnival after crossing the line first on She's A Tiger in the Juvenile Fillies only to be relegated to second place after making contact with Ria Antonia down the home straight.
With plenty of success, thoughts of going back into retirement are not on his mind.
"I'm having a blast right now. This is not a job. This is retirement for me, believe it or not, and it's a pretty good retirement check every month," Stevens added.
"It's fun. I'm going out there with that attitude. I don't feel any pressure.
"I won't say that I expected to be on this stage 11 months ago. But I was willing to accept it if the opportunity came, and I knew I was going to have to capitalize if these kind of horses came around.
"I wasn't going to try to come back and be mediocre.
"If I had felt I'd been mediocre after the first six weeks that I was riding, I would have stepped away ... but I felt that there was still quite a bit there that hadn't been shown yet.
"Maybe this was all meant to be."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)