Desormeaux becomes 8th jockey to win 3 Derbys
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kent Desormeaux was in such a slump that he had to do something, even if it meant moving his family from California to New York.
On Saturday, Desormeaux's big move landed the jockey in a spot more in keeping with his Hall of Fame career: the winner's circle at Churchill Downs.
Desormeaux made an expert ride aboard Big Brown, deftly guiding the big bay colt through the 20-horse field to a 4 3/4 -length victory in the Kentucky Derby that erased any doubts as to whether the Cajun kid still had it.
"I'm absolutely the luckiest man in the world," Desormeaux said after becoming the eighth rider to win the Kentucky Derby at least three times.
Joining one of horse racing's most exclusive clubs seemed remote three years ago. Desormeaux had become so despondent after another disappointing season in California that he felt a drastic change was needed.
The cross country move was difficult for his wife, Sonia, and sons Joshua and Jacob. Yet Desormeaux regained his passion for riding in the New York, nearly doubling his purse totals in 2006 and getting back in the good graces of the sport's top trainers. "I uprooted them, grabbed my kids from their friends. &This was why," he said.
Emboldened by his resurgence, Desormeaux approached Big Brown co-owner Michael Iavarone this year after watching another of Iavarone's horses win a major stakes race in Florida. Desormeaux's question was just like his riding style: simple and direct.
"(He) asked, 'When are you going to put me on a good one?"' Iavarone said, laughing.
The answer came in Big Brown, though the colt was more prospect than prodigy at the time. He had just one race under his belt when Desormeaux got the mount, and that one start had been on turf.
Still, Iavarone was so confident in Big Brown that his offer to Desormeaux came with a catch: If Desormeaux wanted the ride, he had to commit to staying on Big Brown throughout the Triple Crown. Not exactly a safe bet for such a lightly raced horse.
Desormeaux agreed, and Big Brown erased any doubts about Desormeaux's decision by rolling to victory by nearly 13 lengths in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 5 then followed with another easy win in the Florida Derby less than a month later.
Suddenly, Desormeaux was back in the spotlight, a familiar place for the first decade of his career as he became the fastest rider to 3,000 wins. His confidence renewed, Desormeaux had no trouble telling anyone who would listen that Big Brown was good enough to win the Derby, regardless of his resume.
"I think the most obnoxious thing I said was this was the best chance I've had to win the Kentucky Derby, and you know the horses I've been on," said Desormeaux, who won the 1998 Derby aboard Real Quiet and the 2000 Derby on Fusaichi Pegasus.
Desormeaux and his precocious mount backed up their talk. Despite starting from the far outside at the No. 20 post -- a spot that hadn't produced a winner in nearly 80 years -- Desormeaux simply took his time getting Big Brown into position, putting him in perfect stalking position as they entered the first turn.
They cruised down the backstretch and when they hit the far turn, Desormeaux gave his undefeated horse a quick word of encouragement. And they were off.
"He's got the talent, he's got the brains," Desormeaux said. "He's just a talented horse."
His jockey is pretty good, too. And at 38, Desormeaux's dark days now seem behind him for good.
"Kent's a money rider," Iavarone said. "When the money's on the line, Kent's there. He's strong, aggressive, very hungry still and I thought he fit the horse well."
It's a fit that could put Desormeaux and Big Brown on the path to history.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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