06/27/2005 11:00PM

Desormeaux returns to his girls

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jockey Kent Desormeaux returns to Southern California on Thursday following a successful two-month stay in Japan. It is the females in his life that have made him anxious to return home.

"I'm going home to my girlfriends - my wife and the two best fillies that I ride," he said by telephone last weekend.

Sunday, Desormeaux rides Memorette in the $750,000 American Oaks and Ticker Tape in the $200,000 Royal Heroine Stakes at Hollywood Park. Last year, Desormeaux pulled an upset in the American Oaks aboard Ticker Tape.

Memorette will make her turf debut in the American Oaks. Desormeaux has ridden Memorette six times, including a win in a California-bred stakes last December and second-place finishes in the Santa Anita Oaks and Las Virgenes Stakes earlier this year.

"I think she will be a future major player on the grass," he said.

Desormeaux, 35, has not ridden regularly in California since leaving for Japan in late April. His temporary license in that country expired earlier this week. The trip marked the third time in six years that he has ridden in Japan.

Desormeaux calls the recent stay in Japan "phenomenal and my best ever," but admits that a prolonged absence from his wife, Sonia, and sons Joshua and Jacob has taken its toll.

"I'm looking forward to getting home," he said. Being away from his family "is by far the most difficult" factor, he said of riding in Japan.

Desormeaux surpassed 100 career wins in Japan recently, becoming the first non-Japanese rider to reach that milestone. "The thing that stands out is that on the first day I rode I won four and the second-to-last day I won four," he said.

Desormeaux rode such major horses as Zenno Rob Roy, who was the 2004 Japanese Horse of the Year, and Dance in the Mood, the runner-up in the 2004 American Oaks and the top female turf runner in Japan last year.

Racing is much more popular in Japan than in the United States, and Desormeaux said just getting around was sometimes a challenge.

"You have to wear your baseball cap and dark sunglasses," he said. "It's different. It's nice to have fanfare and appreciation. It's like Kentucky Derby Day every day."

That will not be an issue in California, where jockeys receive scant attention outside of the racetrack. When he returns to this circuit, however, Desormeaux will immediately take a prominent role. He will be the lone Hall of Fame jockey in a room that was once full of such dignitaries.

An early July return allows Desormeaux to gain mounts lost in recent months in time for the popular Del Mar meeting, which begins

July 20. At Santa Anita earlier this year, Desormeaux finished tied for seventh in the standings with 35 wins.

He promises to be ready and refreshed after the Japan trip. "The situation I'm in, I think I can ride better" at home, he said. "I can enjoy riding. I'm one lucky guy to have this opportunity, to be able to do both."