04/03/2002 12:00AM

St. Julien retraces steps as he tries to revive career

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Jockey Marlon St. Julien is at a loss to explain why his promising riding career took a negative turn last year. He just wants to start fresh and put it behind him.

He will not ride in Kentucky this spring and has returned to Lone Star Park, where he excelled in the late-1990's.

"Last year I was in a terrible slump," said St. Julien. "I didn't want to go back that same route. I was very successful here. I want to get my career back on track like it was. And hopefully it will."

During the first two years of racing at Lone Star Park, St. Julien won more races than any other jockey. He finished second to Ronald Ardoin during the inaugural 1997 meet with 87 winners, then was easily the leading rider in 1998 when he had 78 winners, 28 more than any other jockey.

Midway through the 1999 meet at Lone Star, St. Julien made the career leap to Kentucky. Things went very well at first. With former rider Randy Romero acting as his agent, his mounts earned over $5.1 million in 1999. A better year followed in 2000, when he was twice third leading rider at Keeneland behind Pat Day and Shane Sellers.

Then, even more quickly than his riding career took off, it suddenly fell apart. He went through a long drought in Kentucky last spring, and experienced limited success at Arlington. He finished 2001 with 72 winners, his lowest total in the last six years. His mounts earned $3 million, $2.8 million less than during 2000.

"I couldn't understand why that happened," he said. "I still don't understand it. I still had the same people supporting me."

Although the disappointment of not matching his past accomplishments was frustrating, St. Julien kept things in perspective. "My wife and kids kept me going and the man upstairs," he said.

This winter, things began to turn around. After relocating from Fair Grounds to Oaklawn Park, he regained momentum - winning 21 races from 147 mounts. There he began riding some for trainer Steve Asmussen, Lone Star Park's leading trainer the last three years.

St. Julien is in a position to start fast at Lone Star Park. He was scheduled to ride six horses opening night, including one for Asmussen. He has another six mounts on Friday.

"I have faith in the ability that God gave me," said St. Julien. "I'm just going to keep my head up, and I'm almost positive I'm going to get back to the level where I want to be."

Asmussen relies on his 'second string'

Even Asmussen seemed surprised at the volume of runners he had at Lone Star Park last year. When informed that he started 405 horses, he laughed and jokingly asked, "Is that all?"

Yes, 405 starters and 90 winners. No trainer has ever won so many races here.

"I don't know if we can duplicate the success of last year," he said. "We're going to have 60 head in Kentucky, some of our better horses. We might struggle in comparison."

But like a coach with a deep basketball team, Asmussen has plenty of capable athletes left on his bench. He had starters in eight of the

10 races opening night, and is running six horses on Friday. "We have 36 stalls on track and will be bringing them in from the farm," he said.

He intends to utilize a number of different riders on his horses this year, which should make for a wide-open battle for leading jockey. Corey Lanerie rode the majority of Asmussen's horses in 2001 and led the standings.

Compendium heads allowance feature

Although Asmussen sent many of his top horses to Kentucky this spring, he still has plenty of force in his vast stable. He will start two-time stakes winner Compendium in Friday's featured ninth race, a $37,000 allowance at a mile on the main track.

Compendium, a 4-year-old son of Notebook, was among Asmussen's top 3-year-olds last year. Winner of the Northern Spur and Northern Dancer Stakes, he went off form late in the year and is unraced since finishing fifth in a restricted stakes at Keeneland. Casey Lambert will be aboard for his seasonal debut.

T. B. Track Star and Maysville Slew - a pair of stakes winners with earnings of more than $459,000 and $548,000, respectively - head the opposition.

Grand Prairie Turf lures big field

Saturday's $100,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge, repositioned on the stakes schedule this year from an early July date, is taking shape. A large field is expected for the mile grass race for 3-year-olds, headed by California invader National Park and Paloma Parilla, winner of a division of last month's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Other probable starters include Dazzlinpersonality, Kamolia, Padlock, Premeditation, Revered Soldier, Royal Win, Storm Alarm, Traill County, and Victory Dawn.

* Fans attending Friday's races are advised to arrive early. Admission will increase from $3 to $10 beginning at 9 p.m in preparation for a concert featuring country music legend Willie Nelson. First post remains 6:35 p.m Central on Friday, and Nelson is scheduled to take the stage after the races conclude around 11 p.m.