08/22/2007 12:00AM

Desormeaux finds agent for change


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It took agent Mike Sellitto a little longer to sell Kent Desormeaux than it did to buy him.

But 15 months after taking over as his agent, Sellitto has Desormeaux in all the right places, most notably the winner's circle this summer at Saratoga. Through Wednesday, Desormeaux was atop the Saratoga rider standings with 31 wins, two more than Cornelio Velasquez.

Desormeaux, 37, is exhibiting the same skills that enabled him to lead the nation in races won from 1987 1o 1989. He is riding so well right now that just based on his presence in the saddle, handicappers must respect longshot Loose Leaf in Saturday's $1omillion Travers Stakes.

"He's been riding that way for me since the day we met him," said Ken McPeek, the trainer of Loose Leaf. "We started off good down in Florida and just kept going. We got good 'mojo.' I wouldn't feel as good about [Loose Leaf] with him off of him. I think my style of training suits his style of riding. It's all good. The only question, Is the horse good enough?"

In his youth, Desormeaux was good enough to win three Eclipse Awards, two Kentucky Derbies, and numerous riding titles at tracks in Maryland and Southern California. But in the early part of this decade, Desormeaux fell out of favor with some Southern California horsemen while those he was riding for weren't winning with the same regularity. In 2005, Desormeaux won just 75 races, his lowest total since he began riding in 1986.

In the early spring of 2006, Desormeaux made the decision to shift his tack to New York. At first he was represented by Jim Pegram, a good Southern California-based agent who was basically starting from scratch when he came to New York. Desormeaux arrived at the same time as Mike Smith, who had hired Sellitto to book his mounts.

One night, Sellitto invited Smith to dinner in Chinatown in New York City. Smith asked if he could bring Desormeaux and his wife, Sonia, along. Sellitto remembers the enthusiasm Desormeaux displayed that night.

"All he was talking about was what he wanted to do, what races he wanted to win," Sellitto said. "He was champing at the bit at the dinner table. Two mornings later at 6 a.m. he comes to me and says 'I got a problem, my agent wants to go back to California.' I said 'There's no problem, you want me to work for you?' He said 'Yes.' "

Desormeaux won 77 races in New York from the Belmont spring meet through the Belmont fall meet of 2006. His major client was John Kimmel, the trainer of Premium Tap, whom Desormeaux guided to victories in the Woodward and Clark handicaps.

Desormeaux was planning on wintering in New York, but Kimmel wanted Desormeaux with him in south Florida to work Premium Tap every five days. In March, Desormeaux rode Premium Tap to a second-place finish in the Dubai World Cup, but the horse never returned to the United States.

One morning during the Gulfstream meet, Sellitto and Desormeaux took a ride to Payson Park, where Kimmel is based. But they also spent 1 1/2 hours with Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Eventually, Sellitto got Desormeaux riding almost everything in Mott's barn.

The two have been a hit at this meet, teaming up to win 13 races from 42 starts.

"He was looking for winners, and I was looking for a rider," said Mott, whose 18 wins have him well on his way to this meet's trainer title. "It just worked out well. We started riding him a little bit at the end of Belmont and worked it into this meet. He's got a very soft touch, and I think he understands pace."

"It's enlightening for me to know that I have a guy of his sort giving me his confidence," Desormeaux said. "I think what he's allowing me to do out there on the racetrack has earned me more clients. It's a snowball effect."

Desormeaux, who entered the Hall of Fame in 2004, said he still has the desire to win he had in his youth. He and his wife - and the couple's two children - have agreed to live the nomad lifestyle of an East Coast rider that includes winters in Florida, frequent visits to Kentucky in the spring and the summer, and fall in New York.

"I still have that desire, I still have the burn to be in that position, so I'm willing to transplant the family every five or six months to a home in Florida, a home in New York, or a home in upstate New York, and deal with that to be in this position," Desormeaux said. "We both agreed, so here we are."

Sellitto said while winning the Saratoga riding title would be nice, it is not his or Desormeaux's primary focus.

"The main thing is to win races and keep the owners and trainers happy," Sellitto said. "Kent's in the Hall of Fame, and I've already won riding titles with [Richard] Migliore. We'd love to have it, but it's not even a consideration right now."