12/10/2001 12:00AM

Gerard Melancon wins 2000th

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NEW ORLEANS - For jockey Gerard Melancon, the bookends of his career have been the times to remember. A successful apprentice rider in his teens, Melancon has come back from substance abuse problems and a tarnished reputation, and Sunday at Fair Grounds he won the 2,000th race of his career.

Melancon, who says his career turned around when he got sober 12 years ago, won Sunday's eighth race aboard Racing for Riches to reach the milestone. The 34-year-old Melancon has gotten off to a strong start at the Fair Grounds meet, and ranked second in the jockey standings here with 16 wins through the weekend.

"I might have got here a long time ago in my career," Melancon said. "I probably didn't win 150 races for about five or six years."

Melancon had ridden exclusively in Louisiana for more than a decade. But this year, on the heels of a successful Fair Grounds meet, he shifted his tack to Lone Star Park, something he said he plans to do again this year.