02/12/2002 12:00AM

Lumpkins has learned his lesson


ALBANY, Calif. - After coming to California during the summer of 2000, jockey Jason Lumpkins enjoyed great success. He was able to maintain the high winning percentage he had shown while riding to championships in Ohio. Last spring at Bay Meadows, Lumpkins gave perennial leading jockey Russell Baze his first real challenge for a riding title in his 20-year reign.

Then last summer, Lumpkins left northern California. His departure was because of a conviction for drunken driving in West Virginia. He was forced to serve a six-month work release sentence in that state and attend classes.

He was able to ride at Mountaineer Park, but was monitored when not at the track. During his stint at Mountaineer, located about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Lumpkins continued his winning ways.

"I made good money and won 95 races," he said of his time at Mountaineer. Overall, Lumpkins ranked 16th in the nation in wins last year with 264.

Lumpkins believes he would have finished in the top 10 in the nation in victories had he been able to ride all year in northern California. The riding colony at Mountaineer, whose purses have skyrocketed since the addition of slot machines, was highly competitive.

"The bottom purses there are $11,200, although they don't have purses for stakes like we have in California," he said. "There are 50 or 60 riders there so it makes it tough."

Despite his professional success, Lumpkins was anxious to leave West Virginia.

"It was a long six months, but I'm back to stay," said Lumpkins, who believes he has changed because of the experience. "I've grown a lot from it. That was something I shouldn't have done, but I've done my time, and I'll never do it again.

"I really felt embarrassed by the whole thing. I let so many people down due to a bad mistake," he said.

Lumpkins has changed his lifestyle. He has become more family oriented with wife, Dawn, son, Stevie, and daughter, Amanda.

"We do a lot more together," he said. "When I'm done at the track, I'm tired. I go straight home, and we may watch a video or go to a movie or go bowling."

Lumpkins maintains he never had a problem with alcohol.

"I'd kick back and stop someplace and maybe watch a ballgame or shoot pool," he said. "It was a casual thing. But it wasn't too casual if I got caught, was it? They say live and learn, and I learned."

Lumpkins is gratified by the reception he has received upon his return.

"I can't thank everybody enough for the open arms I received when I came back," he said. "I have a lot of support here on the track and off the track."

Lumpkins said he has also learned how to control his temper when he doesn't win a race. "I have my angry moments, but anger was living with me too long. I've learned to relax."

Lumpkins enjoys the California racetrack routine. He arrives early and usually works four or five horses a day.

"Here, I'm comfortable with the way things go," he said. "I come and get on some, but it's nice to get a cup of coffee and stand by the rail and converse with owners and trainers."

One key to Lumpkins's success last year was the number of good Southern California shippers he was able to pick up. He hopes that he can continue his good start so "Southern California people will take notice I'm back."

His goals are to keep winning, be healthy, and stay positive.

"I see no problem picking up where I left off," said Lumpkins, who is averaging a win a day and trying to establish business for the Bay Meadows meeting, which opens April 3.

"Hopefully, things will continue," he said. "Maybe Russell and I can make a go of it again."