Desormeaux rides high into Maryland Million '80s wonder boy returns as top U.S. money-winner

September 25, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Kent Desormeaux is back from the land of the movie stars.

He has a cut over one eye, acquired from being elbowed in the face by his brother during a game of basketball.

But otherwise, he looks like the same 5-foot-3 dynamo with an aggressive riding style and charismatic Cajun personality that made him the boy wonder of Maryland racing during the late 1980s.

The 22-year-old jockey, the nation's hottest rider, whose mounts have won more than $10 million this year, is in town for a whirlwind 10 days to compete at Pimlico Race Course and ride in nearly every race tomorrow on the Maryland Million card.

"I'm here to hold onto the money title and ride in the Million," he said.

Through Sunday, Desormeaux's mounts had won $10,450,236 this year compared with $9,397,588 for second-ranked Chris McCarron. Desormeaux is second in wins (280) to Russell Baze (318), who competes in Northern California.

"What a year," Desormeaux said. "My wife's pregnant and I'm riding good horses."

It's down time in Southern California for the A-circuit riders. Desormeaux, who led the jockeys' standings at Del Mar, preferred not to compete at the Pomona fair meet, a sort of West Coast Timonium, that runs for three weeks after Del Mar.

Desormeaux and his wife, Sonia, spent 10 days visiting their folks in Louisiana.

"I ate, ate, ate and ate," Desormeaux said. "Then I was sweating beans thinking about how I was going to take the weight off."

He ballooned to 120 pounds, but by the time he weighed out for yesterday's third race (he missed the first two races because of transportation problems), he had gotten down to 112 1/2 pounds.

"I ran. I played basketball with my brother. I biked. I sweated," Desormeaux said.

Now everyone is scrambling to get a piece of him.

Desormeaux is named on 17 horses in 10 of the Maryland Million races. His agent, Gene Short, will have to pick and choose the mounts by today's noon scratch time.

His schedule for his first 48 hours in Baltimore is hectic:

* The Orioles game last night after the races.

* Up at 5:45 a.m. today to appear with Marty Bass and Don Scott on an early-morning television show.

* An 11 a.m. news conference to accommodate three more TV stations.

* A full afternoon spent riding in all of Pimlico's nine races.

* The possibility of a mount in the $500,000 Pegasus Handicap at The Meadowlands in New Jersey tonight in which case he will hire a helicopter to fly him there.

* Tomorrow he appears at 11:30 a.m. at a handicapping seminar on the second floor of the Pimlico grandstand. The track has ordered 750 pictures of him to autograph.

* Then he rides in either 10 or 11 Maryland Million races.

Tonight's guests at the Maryland Million reception will have a chance at a charity auction to bid on dinner with Desormeaux and his agent at a Baltimore steak house.

In between, he finds time to autograph fans' programs, greet old friends, accept an apology from apprentice Steve Hamilton, who claimed foul against him (and won) in yesterday's sixth race, and reminisce about a great year.

"I started out slow in California [last year], but then after I picked up the mount on Best Pal last winter, my career just exploded," Desormeaux said. "I won four in a row on that horse and then everything snowballed from the exposure." Even though Best Pal has been sidelined with an injury, Desormeaux recently won the Pacific Classic with Missionary Ridge, the Beverly D. Handicap at Arlington International Racecourse with Kostroma and two races on the promising 2-year-old Devil Diamond. He thinks all three horses will make it to the Breeders' Cup next month at Gulfstream Park.

He knows his riding has improved. "I still ride aggressive," he said. "But I don't get as frustrated as I used to when things don't go perfectly. I used to always think it was my fault if I lost. Now I know that when one race is over, it's done with and I go on and deal with the next one."

He clearly thrives on being back in Maryland.

xTC "After being gone for so long, I like seeing trainers like King Leatherbury, Charlie Hadry and Dale Capuano, who have always been good to me," he said. "I like the rapport I have with the fans here. I like having people being happy to see me."

He looks forward to riding against Julie Krone, New York's top rider, in tomorrow's Million. It will be a classic East vs. West, male vs. female confrontation.

"It's going to be fun beating her," he said.

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