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Native son ready to 'kick back' in Idaho

Gary Stevens' summer vacation plans sound like those of countless Idahoans.

"I just want to kick back and do what I did when I was a kid — float the river, go water skiing, do a little swimming at some friends' house, a barbecue," Stevens said.

Of course, most Idahoans don't begin their retreats at the governor's office or end them with a night in their honor.

Stevens gets both.

The Hall of Fame jockey who grew up in Boise returned home for the first time in more than a year Monday — and Gov. Jim Risch proclaimed it "Gary Stevens Week" in Idaho. After a week of kicking back with family and friends in Boise, Stevens will be the honored guest at Les Bois Park on Saturday.

"The things I'm most proud of are the things that have been happening since I retired in November. I had no idea the depths of my accomplishments. It feels very good to look back and see what I've done," Stevens said in the governor's office. "To have a week named after me in my hometown is the ultimate."

Stevens won more than 5,000 races, including eight Triple Crown races, in a career that spanned 27 years and the entire globe. But he got his start in Boise, grooming horses for his father, Ron. When his brother Scott took to racing, Gary naturally followed.

"I followed everything Scott did," he said.

Stevens was hooked on riding at 12 when he galloped his first horse, and four years later, he won his first mount — Lil Star at Les Bois Park.

Rarely has he returned. Even after retiring, for good, in November, Stevens' work as a television analyst for NBC and TVG, a horse racing network, has kept him tied up. The television work has satisfied his desire to remain around the track and keep up old friendships. It's also given him an outlet for competition.

"I get the exact same adrenaline rush that I got when I was riding big races," he said.

But the demanding schedule — Stevens is headed to Del Mar after this week's respite and knows his schedule for the rest of the year — has kept him from visiting home.

Stevens and his wife Angie, whom he met on the set of "Seabiscuit" — "I thought he was an actor," said Angie, the assistant director of the film — split their time between Louisville and Los Angeles. Angie said the couple is looking at buying property in Sweet, Idaho.

"We've talked on several occasions since I retired that when I finally have called it a day and truly am retired, we'll be back here in Boise for sure," Gary Stevens said. "We'd definitely love to have another place up there some place we can go hide out. It's a great hideout here."

Stevens was surrounded by family at Monday's announcement. In addition to Angie, his mother (Barbara) and daughter (Ashley) also attended. The plan is to continue to be surrounded by them all week. They'll find more downtime than Monday's hectic Burbank-to-Vegas-to-Boise itinerary. They'll celebrate Barbara's birthday. They'll catch up with old friends.

"I didn't come in here to get a lot of fanfare. I came in to see family and old friends," Stevens said.

But he will also find time to give back. Stevens said he hopes to do something with Capital High, the school he attended and wrestled for more than two decades ago, and Saturday's Les Bois Park event will benefit charity.

"I'm enjoying myself right now, but I've been away from Boise, Idaho, too long. My roots are here. I'm proud of where I came from and it's served me well throughout my career and my life," Stevens said. "I'm proud to come here and give back to what Boise gave me growing up."