When Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux is back home in Maurice, he plays golf and attends crawfish boils and barbecues at the homes of other Louisiana jockeys.
But Saturday will be Desormeaux's favorite kind of party. He will seek his fourth Kentucky Derby victory, aboard Sonneteer, which is trained by his brother, Keith Desormeaux.
The Desormeaux brothers won't be alone.
Brian Hernandez Jr. and Corey Lanerie, both from Lafayette, will be there as well.
Channing Hill, who rode Fair Grounds-based filly Farrell in the Kentucky Oaks, will ride Fast And Accurate in the Derby. And Tammy Fox, a New Orleanian who is the assistant trainer to husband Dale Romans, will be there with J Boys Echo.
“That jock's room is full of Cajuns; I can tell you that,” Desormeaux said.
It will be just the second appearance for Hernandez, who rode Tom's Ready in last year's Derby. It fills him with pride to be in America's top race along with virtual neighbors.
“I've always had the highest regard for a guy like Kent Desormeaux,” said Hernandez, who will be aboard McCraken. “(Kent Desormeaux) set every record a rider can get. And Corey is a great family man and hard worker who started out in Texas, and it took him quite a few years to get to a pinnacle of sport where he is right now.
“It's just a huge accomplishment to be in a race with guys of that caliber.”
The Desormeauxs won the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic with Texas Red. In the Derby, they will face a big challenge, one Kent wholeheartedly embraces because they would make history. If Sonneteer, a 36-1 choice on the morning line, were to win, it would be the first time since 1933 (Brokers Tip) that a horse has gotten his first victory in the Kentucky Derby.
Desormeaux has his sights higher, however. One maiden, Sir Barton, won the Triple Crown. That was way back in 1919.
“We hope Sonneteer is the next Sir Barton,” Desormeaux said. “(A win Saturday) would give me four, which would be the most by a living jockey.
“It would be an amazing training job by my brother and an amazing thing for our community and also great for Calumet Farm, which is historical here in Kentucky — but it's been a long time since it had a Derby winner.”
Desormeaux has reason to believe Sonneteer can win the Run for the Roses.
“He, by fact, is the fastest-closing horse in the Derby,” Desormeaux said. “He runs the last three-eighths (of a mile) faster than any horse in the field.”
Hernandez had his choice of two top horses in the field, having ridden Girvin and McCraken this season. McCraken has won all three of his races at Churchill, but Hernandez said he him out of loyalty to owner Janis Whitham and trainer Ian Wilkes. Hernandez's biggest victory came in the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2012 aboard Fort Larned, owned by Whitham and trained by Wilkes.
“That was a huge thing for them (putting) me on that horse,” said Hernandez, 31. “I was still a fairly unknown jockey at that point, had only ridden in one other Breeders' Cup (race). They showed a lot of trust in me.”
Girvin, who will be ridden by Mike Smith, won the Risen Star Stakes and the Louisiana Derby after missing the Lecomte because of the equine virus scare at the Fair Grounds. He is a 21-1 shot, with McCraken the 5-1 second choice behind favorite Almost Dreaming (4-1).
“They both are really good athletic horses,” Hernandez said. “They both want to be good horses. So they're both horses who, come Saturday, are going to make their presense known.”
The smaller, bush track's part in the development of jockeys and trainers in southwest Louisiana has been well-documented. It took a hands-on approach in which work was shared by everyone involved in each operation, and operations shared knowledge to make each other better horsemen and women.
However, bush tracks are a thing of the past. That is one of the reasons Desormeaux questions if there will be his type of party at future Kentucky Derbys.
The other reason is the physical ascendance of Americans, including his beloved Cajuns, he said.
“Most of the jockeys today are younger kids from other countries,” he said. “You'd have to make Americans stay smaller, because we're stronger, bigger, healthier human beings. Americans are growing, but the required weight (appoximately 120 pounds) to be a jockey is staying the same.”