02/21/2004 1:00AM

Ardoin calls it quits; accepts training job

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Jockey Ronald Ardoin, a Louisiana riding great and one of just 18 jockeys to win 5,000 or more races, said Saturday he has retired from race riding and has accepted a position as farm trainer for a new Texas training center and breeding operation being launched by Turf Express.

Ardoin, 46, has not ridden since March 7, 2003, when he damaged a main tendon in his left wrist in a gate mishap at Oaklawn Park. He gave the injury close to a year to heal and considered surgery to help its progress. But when Ardoin learned there was only a 50-50 chance the procedure would result in a full recovery, he discussed retirement with his family.

They encouraged him to do so, and at just about the same time, he received an offer to train from Mark Cornett, who heads Turf Express. Ardoin will initially oversee 45 horses, from 2-year-olds to layups, at the farm, which is located near Tyler, Texas.

"I was looking for a new challenge, and that new challenge came up," said Ardoin, who rode for 30 years. "I walk away from riding feeling good. I thank everybody who helped me achieve what I achieved. It was a wonderful ride."

Ardoin won with 5,226 of 32,335 career mounts and retires with mount earnings of $58,908,059. He won 2,848 of those races at his home track of Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., where he ranks as the all-time winningest jockey. Ardoin won six titles at Louisiana Downs and another six at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where he was inducted into the track's Hall of Fame in 1996.

Ardoin also was the leading rider during the inaugural meet at Lone Star Park near Dallas in 1997. He won his first career title as an apprentice, taking the championship at Evangeline Downs near Lafayette, La., in 1974.

Ardoin's most important victories include the 1996 Arkansas Derby, which he won with Zarb's Magic, and the New Orleans Handicap, which he won in 1980 with Pool Court and in 1996 with Scott's Scoundrel.

Ardoin retired once before, in 1991 because of a back injury, but made a comeback and went on to reach the 5,000-win career plateau in August 2000. He was the 16th rider to reach that milestone.