12/21/2005 1:00AM

Kid brother Cody may be best Meche of all

Louis Hodges Jr.
At 16, apprentice rider Cody Meche (above) is tied for fifth in the standings at the Fair Grounds meet. He is the youngest sibling of jockeys Donnie and Lonnie.

Cody Meche has emerged as the star apprentice jockey of the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs, and the fast start to his career has helped ease what has been a difficult year for his talented, troubled older brothers, jockeys Lonnie Meche and Donnie Meche.

Both were slapped with lengthy suspensions for drug-related problems, but both have been inspired by their younger brother and are on separate comeback trails that could lead to a big 2006 for the Meche family.

Cody Meche is 16, and the youngest sibling of 31-year-old twins Lonnie and Donnie. In less than three months of race riding, he is tied for fifth place in the standings at Fair Grounds, with 11 wins in 71 mounts and earnings of $199,960.

"The way it looks right now, Cody's going to have his bug the whole year, and he's just going to dominate," said Donnie. "It looks like he's going to be absolutely great with the bug."

"Cody's got a good shot at the Eclipse Award if he can just keep his wins going," said Lonnie.

In all, Cody had won 12 of 85 career starts through Wednesday, with his first win coming aboard Hero's Glow for trainer Cole Norman at the Louisiana Downs meet Oct. 8. Cody also was aboard Hero's Glow when the horse won on the opening card of the Fair Grounds meet, and he was to ride the horse again Thursday.

"He likes to come from out of it," said Cody. "I fit him perfect."

Patience in races and in his career are among Cody's best qualities, said his agent, Richard Price.

"There are not many apprentice riders around anymore that are good, because too many people start galloping in a month's time and then think they can ride horses," said Price. "Nowadays they rush it, but he's been getting on horses for a long time."

Cody is one of five children of Milton Meche, who owned racehorses. With the vast age difference between brothers, Cody grew up watching Lonnie win major races such as the Kentucky Oaks in 1997, and Donnie win the Grade 1 Spinaway in 2001.

"Since I was like 2 or 3, I just wanted to be like my brothers," said Cody, a Louisiana native who is 5 feet 5 inches and 105 pounds. "When I was 12, I began learning how to exercise horses. There's a bunch of [training centers] around my house, and I'd go there after school. I started galloping on pony horses, and I went from there."

Among his teachers were his brothers.

"Donnie, he showed me how to work horses and get a clock in my head," Cody said. "Lonnie and I watch the replays every night, and he shows me what I should have done and what I did right, and I work on it."

The good advice of his siblings shows on the track, said trainer Morris Nicks, for whom Cody has gone 4 for 15 this meet at Fair Grounds.

"Naturally, he's an apprentice, but he's got a lot of seasoning to him out there in a race," said Nicks. "I like that. We've all got to realize he's an apprentice and he's going to make mistakes, but I tell you what, I've been 90 percent satisfied with his decisions in a race, and that's awful good for an apprentice."

Said Donnie: "What's good about Cody is that he's doing good right now in the race, and he's still got tricks to learn. So whenever he learns those tricks, can you imagine how many more races he's going to win? He's a good rider already, but he's going to do better and better as he goes on."

Lonnie is equally impressed with Cody, who he said has gotten off to a much faster start as an apprentice than he or Donnie did when they came on the scene in 1993.

"He's very good at getting a horse out of the gate," said Lonnie. "I've noticed horses, they leave there good on their feet. And he's good at just getting them to come right back into his hands without fighting them, and he'll just settle them off the pace. As far as him finishing up, horses seem to respond well for him."

Cody lives with Lonnie and his family in Shreveport, La., and began home schooling when he started race riding in October. He said he has one more year left of school. Cody said that after the Fair Grounds meet, he plans to ride at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark.

It was at Oaklawn earlier this year that Donnie drew a seven-month suspension for failing to submit to a drug test and attempting to bribe a security official. Monday, he was reinstated by the Arkansas Racing Commission.

That suspension resulted from the second serious offense by Meche. He was suspended a year for not putting forth his best effort aboard a Steve Asmussen-trained horse in a trial race at Delta Downs in January 2003. Meche has always maintained that his mount injured himself after stumbling at the start in that race.

"I got in trouble at Oaklawn, but I've learned my lesson and it's time to just move on," said Donnie. "It's time for me to get back riding."

Donnie said he plans to return after Christmas, at the Fair Grounds meet, and from there he would like to ride at Oaklawn. He said in a phone interview Tuesday that he weighs 125 pounds and intends to lose between eight and 10 more pounds.

"There's a bunch of agents that have called me, and I don't know who I'm going to take yet," said Donnie.

While he was away, Donnie galloped horses on farms near Lafayette, La.

Lonnie is galloping horses near his home in Shreveport as he serves a six-month suspension that began Nov. 17 for an amphetamines positive in Texas. He disputes the drug use, but said he does not plan to appeal the ruling because of the costs involved and the potential of his suspension being significantly extended.

"I'm just going to go ahead and take the six months," said Lonnie.

Lonnie said the positive test for amphetamines came from the Sudafed he was taking to get over a cold.

"I'm absolutely, positively sure that's what it was," said Lonnie.

Lonnie should be back riding by May, and he said he looks forward to the day next year when he will be sharing a jocks' room with Cody and Donnie. "It will happen," said Lonnie.

And with rising star Cody leading the charge, the riding Meches figure to make some serious noise in 2006.