LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Kent Desormeaux is having fun again.
Gone are the dark days that prompted his relocation from
Southern California to the East Coast two years ago - days when all
he had to show for his efforts were mounting losses.
Now, at 38, the Hall of Fame jockey will ride the probable
favorite in Saturday's 134th Kentucky Derby, when he hopes to steer
Big Brown into the winner's circle.
"I've never been so alive," he said Tuesday on a gray, chilly
morning at Churchill Downs. "I have some really good clients right
now that are making it fun to wake up in the morning."
That wasn't the case two years ago. After ruling Southern
California's racetracks for much of the 1990s, when he led the
ultra-competitive jockeys' standings 11 times, Desormeaux hit a
Things got so bad that Desormeaux was forced to spend part of
his last five years in California riding in Japan.
"I was kind of stalemated," he said. "I wanted to do better,
I knew I should be doing better. I'm better at what I do than what
I was being offered, so I wanted to come East and create a new
beginning in a fresh place."
The move worked.
Desormeaux won the riding title at Keeneland's recently
concluded spring meet, including twice riding four winners in a
day. His presence on the East Coast led to him riding other horses
for Big Brown's ownership.
The next thing Desormeaux knew, he and his wife, Sonia, joined
Big Brown's owners Michael Iavarone, Richard Schiavo and Paul Pompa
Jr. on a private charter flight from New York to Lexington.
"That's how it all began," he said. "One of the success
stories of moving East is acquiring Big Brown."
Desormeaux has been aboard for two of the colt's three career
victories, including the Florida Derby, when he won by 5 lengths
from the far outside post.
"The owners kind of picked Kent up to ride the horse, so it
wasn't my decision," trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said. "Any jockey
can do what Kent has done with the horse. It's the horse that's
making the whole game go."
Desormeaux's latest comeback began in 2006 in New York, riding
horses trained by Bill Mott, who will saddle Court Vision and Z
Humor in the Derby. That year, the Cajun jockey nearly doubled his
purse earnings to more than $8.5 million from the previous year in
"He's the little girl with the curl," Mott said. "When he's
good he's real good. When he's in the groove he can be very, very
And when he's bad?
"It seems to me like most riders go through those cycles," he
said. "Momentum, confidence level, the stock they're riding. When
they start getting on good horses, they start doing well. They get
in the groove."
Desormeaux first got his groove on in Maryland, where he won the
1987 Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice jockey and his 20
stakes victories surpassed the record of another phenom apprentice,
In 1995 at 25, he became the youngest rider to win 3,000 races.
He won his first Kentucky Derby aboard Real Quiet in 1998 and
earned his second on Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
A third Derby victory Saturday would put Desormeaux in an
exclusive four-rider club that includes Isaac Murphy, Angel Cordero
Jr. and Gary Stevens.
"It would be so fulfilling," he said. "It would just stamp
the move as successful."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)