10/05/2006 11:00PM

Favorite son returns

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Sunday will be a homecoming of sorts for Louisiana native Ray Sibille. The former riding great-turned-trainer saddles his first Louisiana Downs starter in the afternoon's second race.

"I rode here the very first year the track opened, I think it was '74 or '75," Sibille said with a chuckle. "What a meeting that was. It seemed like it rained every day. I remember one afternoon there was a big mound of dirt right in the middle of the track. They told us just to stay to the outside and we did. Somehow we got in all nine races."

Much has changed since, both for the track and the rider.

Sibille, born in 1953 in Church Point, followed the path of many of the state's famous riders. He first rode at the bush tracks in the southern part of Louisiana in order to get to ride at the state's recognized tracks. National fame came next, and Sibille enjoyed a career that produced 4,264 trips to the winner's circle. A hip replacement in August 2004 put an end to his days as a jockey so Sibille set his sights on training.

"I went down to Ocala last summer and bought a couple of Louisiana-bred yearlings," he said. "I got my trainer's license this past summer. My wife and I own all of our own horses and we do most of the work around the barn."

The one helper Sibille had to hire was an exercise rider.

"I really wanted to gallop my own horses," Sibille said. "But after the hip replacement, the doctors said it would only take one fall to really cause a problem."

Sibille's first local starter is Rah Rah Lee, who is entered for a $7,500 maiden claiming tag. Gerard Melancon will be in the saddle.

In the featured eighth race, Founding Chairman, an even fourth-place finisher last month in his first start since February, figures to use his usual stalk-and-pounce style with success for trainer Jerry Hardin.

The 5 1/2-furlong optional claimer is loaded with early speed and, given the deeper cushion of the racing surface in recent weeks, Founding Chairman should find himself in excellent position to pick up the pieces under Donnie Meche.

Grand Bank, a gate-to-wire winner of the same race that Founding Chairman last ran in, appears to be the quickest of the quick. Trained by Cole Norman, who is on his way to yet another training title here, Grand Bank will be ridden once again by Jamie Theriot.