LAUREL -- It took eight months, but Kent Desormeaux has won a riding title in California.
He had dominated Maryland racing and the national standings in races won for three years. Desormeaux left Maryland in March after winning three Eclipse awards and setting a record with 598 winners in a year (1989). During the time he rode here, he never lost a riding title.
When Desormeaux moved to the West Coast, he expected the competition to be tougher, and it was.
Monday afternoon, he finished with a flourish to be the leading jockey at the 27-day Oak Tree-at-Santa Anita meeting.
"He won it with 23 winners, and three jocks -- [Gary] Stevens, [Eddie] Delahoussaye and [Alex] Solis -- had 22 each," Desormeaux's agent, Gene Short, said yesterday.
"The competition was so tough that 10 winners separated the first six jocks.
"We couldn't believe it. Kent was third three days before the end of the meeting. It was wild. We went out to dinner three nights ago and Kent said, 'I think we had a great meeting, even if we don't wind up any better than third.'
"Then he had a finish like you wouldn't believe. He won three each on the final three days. A week before the meeting was over, he was seven winners out of it. One day, he had four winners.
"I was so happy that we had won a title, and I knew Kent realized the competition was so good. But you know what Kent said? He said that now that we had won one [title], we'd have to work that much harder to win the next one."
Short, who had been accustomed to Desormeaux winning twice as many as the second-place rider at Maryland meetings, said Desormeaux has improved since moving to Southern California.
"Since we went from East to West, he has been able to adjust and he has learned to put his horse where he should," Short said. "You have to be in a closer position out here. He's learning all the time. He's learned how to position himself for these races. He's learning how these riders handle themselves, and he tries to take advantage of it."
Desormeaux had a rare day off before the Hollywood Park meeting starts today. He could not be reached for comment.