“Last week, I was thinking it was just another number, but I got to dwell upon it and to think about it all week,” said Desormeaux, who had reached win No. 4,999 here on Opening Day, July 23. “I’m in awe of the number. Five thousand, WOW! It’s a long way from 10,000 (Russell Baze, all-time leading rider). Those numbers were attained in California and New York, the “A” league, so I am proud of that.”
“Aside from my first win (aboard Miss Tavern at Evangeline Downs on July 13, 1986), my first Kentucky Derby (on Real Quiet in 1998),” said Desormeaux, 38, who is the 23rd jockey to reach the mark. “Those are the two I hold close to my heart.”
This year has been an eventful one for Desormeaux, who rode Big Brown to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, only to have his bid for the Triple Crown falter in the Belmont Stakes. The Derby win was Desormeaux’s third, having won the Run for the Roses in 2000 aboard Fusaichi Pegasus and with Real Quiet, who, like Big Brown, was denied a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.
A three-time Eclipse Award winner, Desormeaux began his riding career in his native Louisiana in 1986. Nine years later, at the age of 25, he became the youngest jockey to reach the 3,000-victory plateau and, at the age of 30, notched his 4,000 career win. Along the way, Desormeaux won riding titles at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Oak Tree, Del Mar, Laurel, Pimlico and in Tokyo.
The 5,000th victory proved somewhat elusive for Desormeaux, who scored win No. 4,998 on July 7 aboard Sharp Susan in the Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap at Philadelphia Park, then went 0-30 before winning on Wednesday.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, Desormeaux moved his tack from California to New York two years later and enjoyed a major revival in his career. In 2006, he rode winners of more than $8.6 million and last year finished 11th nationally with $11.9 million in purses earned.
At Saratoga in 2007, he finished one victory behind Cornelio Velasquez, 44-43, in the race for the Saratoga riding title.