10/16/2005 11:00PM

Desormeaux looks to rise again


ARCADIA, Calif. - Just because a guy has won more than 4,500 races, three Eclipse Awards and enjoys a place in the Hall of Fame, it doesn't mean things always go as smooth as silk. Horses don't care. Equipment fails. Business ebbs and flows, and the breaks can go either way.

Kent Desormeaux, who answers to such a description, currently finds himself in the market for another one of his fabled career comebacks. He's done it before - more than Cher and Frank Sinatra combined - so the smart money should ride on Desormeaux coming through once again.

Still, his 2005 North American numbers are well below even average Desormeaux quality. He has won 59 races (just six at the ongoing Oak Tree meet) for purses of $3.8 million. His top horses, including Leave Me Alone, Greeley's Galaxy, and Chinese Dragon, have had limited campaigns.

Desormeaux's weekend at Santa Anita was typically frustrating. On Saturday, he was in and out of the saddle with the temperamental English colt Brecon Beacon before they somehow managed to finish third in the Oak Tree Derby. Then on Sunday, while riding heavily favored Irish Honor in a starter allowance, Desormeaux lost his right iron in a freak occurrence when the stirrup strap came unbuckled. He was lucky to make it around in one piece.

Combine all this with the cold reality that Desormeaux had exactly zero Breeders' Cup prospects as of Monday's pre-entry time, and you truly have the portrait of a star misaligned. Determined to view the glass as at least a third full, the jockey's reaction to being left out of the Breeders' Cup mix was upbeat.

"Worst-case scenario," Desormeaux said, "is that I stay home at Santa Anita on Breeders' Cup Day and win five."

Don't put it past him. Desormeaux has won two Kentucky Derbies, 11 Southern California titles, 10 Maryland titles, and still holds the record of 598 winners in a single season. His mounts have earned more than $178 million.

In recent years, Desormeaux has been in high demand in purse-rich Japan, where he has ridden with great success. According to the rider, his stint on the Japan Racing Association circuit last spring netted about 40 winners and nearly $8 million in purses, more than twice his North American total. Desormeaux is scheduled to return to Japan to ride defending champion Zenno Rob Roy in the 24th running of the $4.5 million Japan Cup on Nov. 27.

Nothing, however, can replace success at home. Desormeaux is determined to kick-start his career, and he knows what needs to be done.

"To be a successful jockey around here, day in, day out, you've got to tack 116, or 115, and I don't think people are happy with me doing 118," Desormeaux said. "I think they want to see me lighter, and show I have the desire to do it. They think I'm lazy.

"Believe me, I'm anything but lazy," he went on. "I don't think anyone realizes how difficult it is for me to weigh 116 and tack 118. It's getting harder and harder for me to maintain weight, and yet I'm being asked to get lighter.

"But I'm going to do it," Desormeaux vowed. "I'm 35 years old, and I look at Jerry Bailey. I think I'm younger than he was before he went on his tear to reach the heights he has today. If I can get my act together and get my body and weight in shape, I know I have the ability to do what he's done. I just need to have the responsibility."

If Desormeaux is committing himself to a strict new dietary and fitness regimen, he is doing it in a climate of increased scrutiny on the weight of jockeys and the amounts that horses carry. New York is enmeshed in a jockey weight scandal, while the California Horse Racing Board is in the midst of reforms in presenting weights to horseplayers, including weighing procedures in full public view.

"I think that's a great idea," Desormeaux said. "They just want to bring further integrity to the weighing in and out of jockeys. It will require a lot of information so the public understands, though. Things like the difference in helmet size, vest weight, and equipment carried by the horse, so they understand why weight is different after the race is run."

Desormeaux needed all of his horsemanship to survive his first experience with Brecon Beacon.

"As soon as my rump hit the saddle, he threw it into reverse," the rider said. "He'd throw his head between his legs, back up, and then rear up. He was pretty crafty, knowing how to get the rider off. But he seemed to be doing it almost mad, frantic, and out of control. I was afraid he might flip and hurt himself severely.

"He tried it again out on the track, when we turned at the eighth pole," Desormeaux continued. "That's when I sent him into a gallop, then loped him to the gate. I know the Europeans circled behind the gate before their races, so I just brought him home and let him circle until we loaded."

In the race itself, Brecon Beacon ran greenly on the turns and yet was beaten barely two lengths by victorious Aragorn and runner-up Eastern Sand.

"He can definitely improve off that performance," Desormeaux added. "I hope I get the chance to help him."