08/11/2004 11:00PM

Uphill climb continues for Samyn


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Saratoga has been the scene of some of the best moments in jockey Jean-Luc Samyn's career.

Grade 1 stakes won by Samyn at Saratoga include the Sword Dancer (three times), Diana (twice), and Ballerina (twice).

But last year on Aug. 20, 11 days after winning the Sword Dancer aboard Whitmore's Conn for trainer Randy Schulhofer, Samyn shattered the femur in his right leg when his mount clipped heels at the top of the stretch. The weekend after the accident, Samyn had calls in four stakes, including the Allen Jerkens-trained Shine Again in the Ballerina, a race Samyn had won on Shine Again in 2001 and 2002. Shine Again finished second with Jose Santos aboard, and Samyn watched from his bed at the Hospital of Special Surgery in New York City, where he was recuperating from an operation to place 14 screws and a plate in his leg.

Samyn, 47, returned to riding on Jan. 10 at Gulfstream Park and won his first race back for Jerkens, with whom the rider has enjoyed a long and successful association. In mid-April, Samyn was experiencing discomfort from the screws and plate, and his doctor suggested he have them removed, which required another five weeks on the sidelines.

It's been a tough road back for the French-born Samyn, who won his first race in this country in 1976. Samyn, who said his leg is "100 percent," has ridden only six winners from 172 mounts this year.

On Sunday at Saratoga, Samyn will seek his first stakes win since last year's Sword Dancer when he rides the Schulhofer-trained Irish Colonial in the $100,000 West Point Handicap. Earlier in the meet, Samyn nearly pulled off an upset in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch aboard Irish Colonial, who finished a hard-charging third and was beaten less than a length.

Samyn, who is closing in on 2,500 career wins, including 294 stakes wins, said he was surprised at how difficult it has been to jump-start his business since returning from his injury. Trainers he has had a long history with, such as Jerkens, have been reluctant to provide him with live mounts, he said.

"They all are rooting for you, but nobody wants to give you a live mount," Samyn said. "It's disappointing because of all the great things [Jerkens] and I did, but I haven't lost faith and I still check with him every morning. One of these days, we are going to get back rolling together. My agent, Robin Carroll, and I are working very hard to rebuild my business. I have all the tools and I can still ride. It's just been a little tough to get back in the game."

Samyn, who has recorded every one of his wins on a computer, which he jokingly refers to as his "brain," said he and Jerkens have paired together for 234 wins, 51 of them in stakes.

Because of his many successes in turf races, Samyn earned the nickname "Samyn on the green," but perhaps one of the best horses ridden by Samyn is Kelly Kip, an exceptionally fast dirt sprinter and multiple stakes winner trained by Jerkens. Kelly Kip, with Samyn aboard, set several track records in the 1990's.

Samyn's most lucrative association came with trainer P.G. Johnson, who passed away on Aug. 6. Samyn and Johnson won 439 races together, including 75 stakes.

"I was extremely blessed to meet P.G.," Samyn said. "All that I have done wouldn't have happened without him."

A win aboard Irish Colonial would be particularly meaningful for Samyn and Schulhofer, whose father, Scotty, regularly used Samyn on his horses before retiring from training in 2001. Among the stakes winners ridden by Samyn for Scotty Schulhofer were Honey Fox and Sunny Sparkler.

Randy Schulhofer said Samyn is a perfect match for Irish Colonial, who has been difficult to relax in the early stages of his races.

"In the Bernard Baruch, we wanted Irish Colonial to finish strong, and Jean-Luc was able to do that by putting his hands down and relaxing him, without having to fight him," Schulhofer said. "Jean-Luc is very patient."

Samyn has been married to his wife, Antoinette, for 25 years and has two children, Jeanette and Louis. He said retirement isn't on the horizon any time soon. Samyn has ridden in New York longer than any other jockey currently on the Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga circuit.

"The first day I receive my Social Security check, I'll retire," Samyn said with a sly grin.