06/28/2004 12:00AM

Demesme spill stuff of legends

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PLEASANTON, Calif. - Jockey Elliott Demesme's world turned upside down in a matter of three or four strides Friday at the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton.

Demesme rode Coeur Defeu to victory in an Arabian race, but his mount appeared to take a bad step just as he hit the finish line. As Demesme was pulling up his mount, Coeur Defeu tripped, pitching Demesme over his head.

Demesme was knocked unconscious and was rushed to San Joaquin General Hospital in nearby French Camp. Demesme regained consciousness, left the hospital under his own power, and then stunned everybody by returning to the track later in the afternoon with the intention to ride the remainder of his mounts.

Demesme, however, had not officially been released from the hospital and was not allowed to ride. He was also kept off his mounts Saturday. His lone mount Sunday was scratched.

The injury was apparently minor but could have been a lot worse. The imprint of a horseshoe was clearly seen on Demesme's forehead, and he sported a big shiner.

The incident brought to mind one of northern California's most legendary racing stories, the day Hall of Fame rider Ralph Neves was pronounced dead at the hospital, but returned to ride again that same day.

Neves was only 19 on May 8, 1936, when his mount Fannikin tripped, causing Neves to be pitched through the inside rail. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, and the news was announced to the fans at Bay Meadows.

Neves's physician had tried to revive him by giving him a shot of adrenalin to his heart, and he already had been fitted with a toe tag and covered with a sheet in preparation to be taken to the morgue.

With no one in the room, Neves miraculously revived, left the hospital, caught a cab back to Bay Meadows, and stunned everyone by walking back into the track.

By the way, a hunch bet on Demesme might be in order. The day after Neves cheated death, he rode five winners.

Full fields give figures a boost

Final figures for Stockton are due this week, and officials of the fair and California Authority of Racing Fairs are encouraged by the early returns. The fair was on a record pace after the first week, as full fields were the order of the day.

Entries slowed a bit in the second week, and race-day scratches twice cut fields to only four horses to eliminate show wagering, but overall the handle was strong.

Black Ruby no longer dominant

Champion mule Black Ruby, the most popular fair performer ever, has turned mortal. She won her first race of the year on a disqualification in Nevada, and then ran third. On Sunday, she finished fourth at Stockton.

It was only the second time Black Ruby, now 12, had finished off the board since her first year of competition. She was also fourth at Fairplex last year.

* Bullwinkle, a fan favorite who was used as a pony horse at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton until well into his 30's, died this spring at 44, trainer Val Tohill said.