08/18/2004 11:00PM

Go-go Desormeaux pauses to reflect


DEL MAR, Calif. - Kent Desormeaux would not mind a weekend with a little less drama, just for a change of pace. He would like to keep it simple, back to the basics. A win on Ticker Tape in the Del Mar Oaks on Saturday would be nice, and so would a good showing by longshot El Elogiado in Sunday's Pacific Classic, followed by hot shower, a meal, and a quiet evening at home.

By contrast, Desormeaux found himself in the center of the latest Arlington Million storm last Saturday, hollering foul and getting the win aboard Kicken Kris after the invading Irish horse Powerscourt was disqualified.

The very next afternoon, Desormeaux was back at Del Mar, riding the Expelled colt Wetherly in the Best Pal Stakes, when things went horribly wrong on the far turn. Wetherly's left front ankle gave way and sent Kent rolling to the ground. The jockey got up, sore and shaken, but the horse did not survive.

Perspective comes in all shapes and sizes, but Desormeaux was getting more than his share. One week earlier, he was gearing up for his dream-come-true induction into the Racing Hall of Fame, when he would join such heroes as Laffit Pincay, Bill Shoemaker, and Eddie Delahoussaye. After an all-night, cross country flight on a private jet, Desormeaux found himself in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on the morning of Aug. 9, tired, excited, and well prepared to deliver a grateful speech to the assembled throng. Then he looked down from the podium and saw his father, Harris Desormeaux, welling up with tears of pride and joy.

"End of story," Desormeaux said. "I was swallowing frogs. I'd only made it through a couple of bullet points, but after that I couldn't get anything out. I've never seen my Dad cry. In fact, the only time I'd ever seen him get emotional and upset was when he had kidney stones."

The idea of Kent Desormeaux suddenly struck dumb defies known logic. A natural-born storyteller, he never uses two words where 10 will do, and on a good day, he will throw in a couple of his own invention.

"Hey, your ear's bleeding," cracked Jim Cassidy, the trainer of Ticker Tape, as he walked past a reporter listening to the jockey. "Better use the other one for a while."

Still, there are few athletes more articulately compassionate about their craft than Desormeaux, who has a sincere appreciation of the sacrifices entailed, both by man and beast. Thursday morning, as the Pacific Classic weekend approached, the freshly minted Hall of Famer was planning to attend a California Horse Racing Board meeting and speak up if necessary in favor of a 10-pound increase in the minimum riding weights assigned in the state. Desormeaux, a natural 130-pounder, has been fighting the battle throughout his career, and not always with the best interests of his health in mind.

"The 5 percent body fat requirement is important, too," Desormeaux said, referring to the number being proposed in the rule changes. "And not forcing a guy to have all of his safety equipment included as part of his weight is very helpful as well. I know half the room, myself included, buys the light vest. Now we can buy the safest vest instead."

Kent's vest could have gotten a real test when Wetherly went down in the Best Pal. Fortunately, the trailing horses found some way to miss the fallen rider.

"My colt was going perfect, and when I cued him he took off," Desormeaux said. "Then he just went. The sheer velocity made me take a couple rolls, but I was taking inventory of the field immediately. There went one - where's the other one? - trying to account for them all.

"Then, after you've laid there for a second, your body screams its own inventory," he added. "I couldn't breathe, and my finger was hurting bad from where I put out my hands to break the fall."

Desormeaux took last Monday off to nurse his wounds, then was back in action on Wednesday.

"That's pretty typical," he said. "We don't get too many days off unless we're hurt. And that's not the best condition to be reflecting about your career.

"That's what the Hall of Fame experience did for me," Desormeaux went on. "It offered cause for reflection. We ride here every day with blinkers on. Where's the next one? Where's the next one? Find me another one. Let's go find another one! Every day is just chasing the next winner. Flying over there, then home, I got to step back and take a look. And even I reacted like, 'Wow. I did that?' "

At the age of 34, with 18 years as a professional, more than 4,500 winners and two Eclipse Awards, Desormeaux is among the youngest riders ever elected to the Hall of Fame. He was bemused by the new rule, announced shortly after his induction, that increased jockey eligibility from 15 to 20 years.

"I guess I'm lucky I got in this year," Desormeaux said with a grin. "Next year I wouldn't be eligible."