About an hour before last Friday's race card at Canterbury Park, Scott Stevens surveyed his swollen, purple foot, the product of a mishap in the final race the night before. His horse had stumbled out of the gate and unseated him, then pulled the jockey underneath her for three or four strides before he freed himself. ¶ His shoulder ached, and a hoof had struck him near his surgically repaired knee. But once he realized he could get his boot onto his injured foot, Stevens was ready to resume pursuit of his 4,000th victory. "It's sore," he said. "But I'm looking forward to getting back out there. You just have to block it out and get back on." He would hurt again that night, as another mount reared in the starting gate and bashed his tender shoulder. Still, the 48-year-old rider climbed back into the saddle the next day for victory No. 3,997. With a determination as great as his skill, Stevens has quietly excelled at the only job he ever wanted, and his comeback from a career-threatening injury last August is expected to culminate with a milestone at his adopted summer home.

Stevens enters tonight's race card with 3,998 victories aboard all breeds of horses, according to the Daily Racing Form. The achievement is a testament to his grit, popularity and horsemanship -- and to a competitive spirit that hasn't dimmed after 33 years.

"I still love what I do," said Stevens, who has ridden at Canterbury since 1989. "Racing's been good to me. I've been fortunate to be around a lot of good people at the track, and I've been able to make a good living. And as long as I'm still having fun, I'll keep riding."

The son of trainer Ron Stevens, Scott loved to gallop his dad's horses and help out at the barn. He lied about his age so he could start riding races at 15 -- a year earlier than the rules allowed -- at the track near their Idaho home.

Stevens quickly became the top rider at Boise's Les Bois Park. After teaching his younger brother Gary to ride, Scott beat him so frequently that Gary moved to Southern California. Gary Stevens went on to win three Kentucky Derbies, eight Breeders' Cup races and a place in racing's national Hall of Fame, while Scott chose a less glamorous but equally fulfilling path.

He settled in Phoenix, where he could ride eight months of the year at Turf Paradise and spare his family the nomadic life that often comes with a racing career. Most of the past 20 summers have been spent in Shakopee. A member of Canterbury's Hall of Fame, Stevens has won three riding titles there, and he has ridden and won more races than any other jockey in its history.

While Stevens' skill got him on plenty of fast horses, his integrity, loyalty and professionalism have made him one of the most admired riders at the track. "When I was starting and had just a few horses, he rode just as hard for me as he did for a guy with 50 horses," said Mac Robertson, a four-time Canterbury training champion who often uses Stevens. "You don't see that very often in this business. He's a good guy, a positive guy who gets up every time he's knocked down. And he loves to win."

Like all jockeys, Stevens can barely count the injuries he's endured. A 2002 spill broke 14 bones and split his pelvis in half, and the physical toll over the years has reduced his height from 5-6 1/2 to 5-4.

His most grueling rehabilitation came over the winter. Last Aug. 1 at Canterbury, a horse Stevens was riding injured a leg, and he held the reins as the veterinary staff tried to put a brace on the animal. The horse reared up and smashed the brace into Stevens' left knee, destroying the ACL.

Surgeons implanted a cadaver ligament in September. An infection delayed his recovery, and the slow healing and painful therapy kept him off horseback for seven months, the longest layoff of his career. But in late February, Stevens received permission to begin exercising horses. He returned to racing March 26, riding with a knee brace, and brought home 16 winners in the final weeks of the season at Turf Paradise.

"By mid-February, I still didn't know if I would ever ride again," said Stevens, who has 22 victories at Canterbury this summer. "I was really worried. If I hadn't been able to ride again, I probably would have started training. But I wasn't ready to be finished, not yet."

Stevens' children are grown, and daughter Jessica is due to deliver his first grandchild in January. Though his knee feels stronger every day, he has become more selective about the horses he rides, choosing quality over quantity.

Career longevity seems to be in the bloodlines. Stevens still rides some horses for his father, who continues to train at age 70. "Of course, his mom and I are proud," Ron Stevens said. "Not only does he have a great feel for the horse and a great temperament, he's very dedicated to the game. He's a very talented person who could have done anything. But he just loves to ride."

Scott anticipates he will ride another three or four years. For his second career, he plans to emulate his dad and become a trainer -- but not until he's good and ready.

"There's just a feeling you get with horses, especially when you start out with a young one and see it develop into something," he said. "I wouldn't want to do anything else."