“I’m a worker. I like to work. It’s nice to have a day off, but if I’m here, I might as well work.”
Jockey Steve Bahen bites into a sesame bar as he chats about working in the horse racing industry. He is sitting down for the interview, which is a rarity. Usually, you will see this seasoned jockey either working horses, helping out in the barn, or generally hustling as the morning hours tick by on Woodbine’s backstretch. At 56, he’s as fit as a fiddle and still giving his fellow riders a good run for their money around the Rexdale oval.
Born in Montreal, Bahen found himself falling into racing and the Ontario Jockey club circuit during the early ’80s.
“I came here as a kid when I was 14, started walking hots for a man named Ted Mann. It was the summertime; school was out.”
Gradually he began grooming horses and then transitioned to galloping.
“At Fort Erie, I started galloping the pony, then the next year I started galloping a horse called Diplomatic Ward. That was the first horse I ever galloped,” said Bahen. “We took him out to the training track, and Janet (Bedford) told me, ‘Just don’t let him get down on the fence.’ He was a smart six-year-old, a little horse, but a nice horse. I started galloping him every day, and two or three other ones. Then the next year, I started galloping four, fix or six every day. When I hit 20, I started [race] riding.”
On April 5, 1986, Bahen rode his first race aboard Liberty Gain.
“It was at Greenwood for Janet Bedford. He finished fifth. I don’t remember much of the race. I stayed on!” laughed Bahen. On July 9, the jock recorded his first win aboard Michellerin for Stoney Brook Stables and trainer Yates Craig.
After spending 36 years race riding, it’s fair to say that Bahen has seen his fair share of horse flesh. He recalls some of the standouts during his tenure thus far.
“Le Cinquieme Essai, Nipigon, Nipissing were very good. All my Oaks fillies like Silent Fleet,” said Bahen who won the Oaks with Silent Fleet in ’96, Nipissing in 2013 and Desert Ride in 2019.
Here’s a quick highlight reel of multiple graded stakes-winning Bahen’s big victories:
- In ‘93, Bahen won the Heresy Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Woodbine with Desert Waves. Three years later, he won the ‘96 Woodbine Oaks and Bison City Stakes with Silent Fleet. In 1997, he secured the Breeders’ Stakes with John the Magician.
- While there was no Canadian Triple Crown (CTC) winner that year, Le Cinquieme Essai, who secured the Prince of Wales (the second leg of the CTC), played a pivotal role in Bahen’s riding career a couple of years later. Bahen rode Le Cinquieme Essai in 20 of his 33 career starts. In 2004, he piloted the horse to victory in the International Turf Cup at Fort Erie and the Labeeb Stakes at Woodbine. A season later, they captured the Gr.3 Connaught Cup at Woodbine. Bahen also steered Le Cinquieme Essai to victory in back-to-back editions (2006-2007) of the Gr. 2 Play the King Stakes.
- In 2018, Bahen and Tiz a Slam captured the Gr. 3 Dominion Day Stakes. They kept the ball rolling by winning the Gr.2 Nijinsky three weeks later. In 2019, at Churchill Downs, Bahen secured the Gr.3 Louisville Stakes with the Chiefswood homebred. Returning to Woodbine, they continued the win streak, capturing the Gr.3 Singspiel and another Nijinsky Stakes.
- And who can forget Bahen’s win aboard 82-1 long shot T J’s Lucky Moon in the 2002 Queen’s Plate?
Graded stakes wins aside, when asked what horse he could have ridden again, Bahen names a well-known stakes filly and daughter of Niigon.
“Nipissing. I wish she never got hurt because I thought she would have gone on to be a really good mare. She was still young when it happened and I think she still had a lot to prove.”
As a two-year-old, Nipissing won two stakes; the Princess Elizabeth and the South Ocean stakes. In 2013, the Chiefswood homebred trained by Rachel Halden won the Woodbine Oaks with Bahen aboard. Unfortunately, she suffered a fatal injury later in the season.
Other riders are quick to remark on the value Bahen brings to Woodbine’s jockey colony.
“There is not a harder working rider than him. He is here every morning, and he tries really hard riding his races,” said Gerry Olguin, who rode competitively at Woodbine from 2000 to 2017.
Another seasoned jockey, Slade Callaghan, echoed similar sentiments. “I tell you, Stevie is probably one of the most hard-working riders throughout the years. No two ways about it. He’s solid, a good rider, and tries every time. You can’t ask for anything more,” said Callaghan, whose been riding at Woodbine since 1994.
In 2012, Bahen was awarded the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award for his contribution to the sport. The award is presented to a Canadian-born rider, or one who has been riding in the country for more than five years.
Woodbine’s jockey colony is home to several veteran riders, including Bahen. It is also home to several apprentice jockeys trying to establish themselves on the North American racing circuit. What is Bahen’s advice for these up-and-coming youngsters?
“Make sure you are ready before you start. If you think you are ready, wait a little longer and listen. Listen to the owner. You don’t know it all. I’m still learning. You just learn all the time.”
Anyone in the early stages of their race riding career should heed Bahen’s advice. After all, he is still gracing the winner’s circle with his presence. Last month, Bahen scored a nice win aboard Maccool’s Girl going a mile and one sixteenth over the inner turf. The three-year-old filly is owned and bred by Chiefswood Stables Limited and trained by Rachel Halden.
Over his storied career, Bahen has visited the winner’s circle over 1,500 times – or to be more accurate, 1,562 times as of this writing. Does he have a number of wins in mind as a goal before he puts away the boots?
“I never had a goal of how many,” he admits. “It’s just perseverance. I’ve persevered and made a good living doing this. I don’t care if I’m number one, I just want to win races. Like everybody else, I ride to win. As long as I keep making a living doing it, I’ll keep riding.”
And what is the real secret to having all this energy to work day in and day out at the track?