07/13/2004 11:00PM

Desormeaux back where he started

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CARENCRO, La. - A couple of long-lost sons came home to Evangeline Downs this week, one to visit and one to stay, at least for a while.

Kent Desormeaux was in town Monday to lend his support to a fund-raiser for the Women's Center of Lafayette. In the silent auction portion of the benefit, Desormeaux donated the saddle used by the late Bill Shoemaker when he won the 1986 Kentucky Derby aboard Ferdinand.

A soon-to-be Hall of Famer, Desormeaux was gracious as he returned to the oval where he began his career.

"I'm happy to see familiar faces, family, and friends," said Desormeaux. "This is a great cause, a worthy cause, saving lives."

When asked how he felt about his induction into the hallowed National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Aug. 9, Desormeaux said, "I am humbled by it. I stride lighter on my feet. Everything that I have tried to accomplish in my career has been honored."

Apprentice rider Brian Hernandez Jr. has not been gone nearly as long as Desormeaux. He led the rider standings here in the spring before heading to Churchill Downs to test the waters at a larger venue.

An 18-year-old graduate of nearby Acadiana High School, Hernandez enjoyed a solid meeting at Churchill, riding 21 winners from 195 mounts. He has picked up right where he left off since returning, winning several races last week. Hernandez turned in a gutty ride to win Saturday night's allowance feature, when he squeezed through a narrow opening while on board Living Lavida. Despite his two-month leave of absence, Hernandez is tied for third in the current standings.