Kent Desormeaux did everything right in Saturday’s Diana Handicap – settled Dynaforce in a perfect spot, blew past Bayou’s Lassie to get first run on the closers and hit the eighth-pole with an insurmountable lead. Desormeaux hit Dynaforce one last time left-handed and then switched to his right. In mid-switch, Forever Together and Julien Leparoux blew past him.
Poof. Desormeaux snapped his whip down, cutting the air like a hatchet through an apple – 5,000 would have to wait.
It was the perfect moment for Desormeaux to win his 5,000th career race. Win the Grade I Diana Handicap at Saratoga, with a crafty trip for main man Bill Mott.
Disney doesn’t do horse racing.
Instead, Forever Together flew home to nail a deserving Dynaforce. The loss continued a month-long drought for Desormeaux, who had toiled at the precipice of becoming the 23rd jockey in history to win 5,000. He stood two wins away on July 7. Two wins. For a guy who won 43 races at Saratoga last summer and 206 races during the year, two wins are a snap. He lost photos, missed holes, struggled.
Finally he reached the milestone. On Sunday, he guided Bella Attrice, a former $35,000 claimer about half the size of Dynaforce, to a New York-bred allowance score for Bruce Brown. It wasn’t the Diana, but, hey he got it.
“The last month wasn’t normal. The racing gods have a funny way of making you appreciate something,” Desormeaux said the morning after the win. “I believe in the racing gods a little bit; you have to. This is a very humbling game, the greatest game played outdoors, but it will humble you very quick. Ask Big Brown.”
Don’t feel sorry for Desormeaux enduring a bad month. He won the Derby – his third – and the Preakness on Big Brown this spring. He’s already got a spot in the Hall of Fame. He drives a Porsche. But frustration is frustration, whether you’re Kent Desormeaux trying to win 5,000 or a waitress trying to make a tip.
“It would have been more poignant; a Grade I at Saratoga for Bill Mott,” Desormeaux said. “It was frustrating because that filly was absolutely flying. I couldn’t believe I got caught. She ran a winning race and didn’t get her picture taken; she deserved to win. She was a few lengths off the lead, made the lead inside the eighth-pole, and just had to carry that last 210 yards to the wire and it was Julien’s turn. That’s another thing you learn – when it’s your turn it’s your turn. Have everything go smooth as silk and still get beat.”
Desormeaux began his riding journey at Evangeline Downs. He lasted five weeks. Too good. He arrived in Maryland and wanted to ride every horse, every race, every day. He broke Chris McCarron’s record for most wins in a year. Then he got too big for Maryland and went to California. He started out strong, then slumped, got disenchanted, irked most trainers on the grounds. He regrouped, came east again and now he rides first-call for Bill Mott and is Big Brown’s jockey.
Milestones call for reflection.
Kent Desormeaux at Evangeline Downs? “Just gimme another horse to ride. Please let me ride your horse,” he said.
Maryland? “Same thing. ‘Turn me loose. Let me play,’ ” he said.
California? “Probably the first 10 years was much of the same but more realistic, less of an optimist,” he said.
Saratoga? “Less optimism, more realistic,” he said. “You have to have a long story for me to look at a Form on a horse that has no chance and tell me I’m going to win it. I’m a realist now.”
A realist who sees the end. He’s not Laffit Pincay or Bill Shoemaker or even Russell Baze, banging and grinding for every winner. He’s got an end in sight. 2010. Forty years old. That’ll do it.
“I won’t get 6,000. I hope not. I doubt it. That means something went wrong, like the stock market crashed,” Desormeaux said. “Now I win 200 if I’m rolling, five more years, I don’t see it. My dream is 40. My last ride is going to be the $10 million Dubai World Cup. I’d like to go out there, win that thing, and say ‘Thank you very much.’ That’s a dream though. Probably a pipe dream.”
And there’s the great riddle of Kent Desormeaux. He talks like it’s all a business decision, a rational decision when to retire. He mentions the stock market as a factor in when he calls it a career. Pincay, Shoemaker, Baze . . . they never talked about the stock market. But moments after he sounds cut-and-dry about it all, Desormeaux switches into the boy at Evangeline Downs. Have saddle, will ride.
“To see if you can get him to float, like cattle following that herd. Then you ask them and shoooooom, then they go. That’s a great feeling. That feeling still owns me,” Desormeaux said. “When you know you make a difference, you hear that perfect gap and it was just like you read it on paper. The same reason as when a $2 fan picks a winner and feels good about it. That’s how I feel when I give him that smooth ride. You saw it, you knew how it was going to be tactically. It’s called winning, that feeling of success. That’s good stuff.”
And onto 6,000.