03/14/2002 1:00AM

Everything's clicking for Desormeaux


ARCADIA, Calif. - It will be easy to spot the momentum in the San Felipe Stakes on Sunday. The gray 3-year-old U S S Tinosa is the only expected starter entering the Derby prep off a win. And Kent Desormeaux, U S S Tinosa's rider, is currently one of the hottest jockeys at Santa Anita.

Second behind Alex Solis in the standings (56-52 through Wednesday), and tied with Chris McCarron in stakes wins (seven), Desormeaux has re-emerged as one of the go-to guys in the jockey room. He already has bagged the Strub Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap this meet, has set his sights on a potential Santa Anita-Kentucky Derby mount with U S S Tinosa, and was honored by his recent nomination to the Hall of Fame.

Desormeaux, 32, has reached the stage of his career where his personal life complements his work. It was not always that way. Desormeaux and his family have struggled the past three years with Desormeaux's son, Jacob, who was born deaf. While an initial cochlear implant was defective, Jacob's second operation was a success. Desormeaux now can ride horses worry-free.

"Everything's absolutely perfect at home," Desormeaux said Thursday morning. "I don't have to mix in decisions on what kind of implant to put in my son.

"My wife [Sonia] is happy, and that makes me happy. She's happy because Jacob's in good order, Joshua [9] is a little angel, we're settled into our new home, and I can focus on just being the best jockey I can be."

It shows. Statistics aside, Desormeaux exudes confidence on the racetrack. Whether rallying wide, or saving ground on the rail, most of the breaks are falling his way. Is it because he is riding well, or is he riding well because the breaks are falling his way?

"I think it's a little bit of both," he said. When you are riding well, "there is no hesitation in your decisions, you don't second-guess. You don't find yourself asking should I take back or should I go? Take back or go? Then get caught in the middle not doing either. In a nutshell, it's called confidence."

When he rides U S S Tinosa in the San Felipe, Desormeaux will be riding a horse who is racing like a legitimate Derby contender for trainer Jerry Hollendofer. Runaway winner of the Sham Stakes on Feb. 8, U S S Tinosa worked three furlongs Thursday under Desormeaux (36.60 seconds). "I feel like they've got him to beat," said Desormeaux.

The finishing kick that U S S Tinosa displayed in the 1 1/8-mile Sham suggests he will have no trouble running farther. "The only question is, will he have the same kick after a mile that he had after seven-eighths," Desormeaux said. "If he continues to kick like he kicked . . . well, I'll let him do the talking."

And why not? Having won the Kentucky Derby in 1998 with Real Quiet and again in 2000 with Fusaichi Pegasus, Desormeaux is hungry for another.

"The Kentucky Derby is still the reason we maintain our desire the entire year, to ride a Kentucky Derby contender. Every second of hard work, every horse you exercise, all the politics here at Clocker's Corner, is an attempt to have momentum going into the first Saturday in May."