Jockey relishes annual run at Hualapai Downs

Kingman holds a place in the heart of jockey Elliott Demesme.

That's why the successful Californian returns to Hualapai Downs each year.

Not only does he like the area and the people, he won his first race in Kingman in 1994.

"A friend (trainer Scott Cramile) who took me there told me 'I'm going to let you ride this horse and first time out you're going to win on him,'" Demesme said.

"I didn't believe him."

But, Cramile was right and Demesme earned his first victory at Hualapai Downs aboard Stefan Cooky.

"I was excited," Demesme said.

"I couldn't sleep that night at the hotel.

I couldn't sleep all night.

I stayed up until about 2 O'clock in the morning."

The path to being a successful jockey was unusual for Demesme.

Growing up in Compton, Calif., better known for inner city gangs than horse racing, Demesme got involved in rodeo as a youngster.

"We have horses.

We've got an acre in Compton.

We always had cows, chickens and horses," Demesme said.

"I've been riding a horse ever since I was born really."

But, a jockey growing up riding horses isn't the real twist to Demesme's career.

Being a young kid growing up in Compton and becoming a bull rider in rodeos, then becoming a top-flight jockey shows some of the many twists and turns his career has taken.

"I was doing rodeos and shows.

My father and Godfather kept me in stuff to keep me out of trouble," Demesme said.

"But, I still got in some.

You know how teenagers are.

"At the age of 12 I started riding bulls, well, they were little bulls … steers.

I started riding a bull when I turned 14."

Charlie Sampson, the first black bull rider to win the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world championship, was a mentor to Demesme and helped launch his bull riding career.

Something Demesme recalls vividly and has taken it upon himself to follow in Sampson's footsteps by mentoring youngsters in Compton himself.

"We run a center for kids in Compton.

It's called Cue Up.

It's an arena where we teach kids to ride horses, some grownups, but mostly kids," Demesme said.

"Then we take them out and let them ride rodeo.

We have two world champions in junior rodeo.

"I go to L.A.

during the week and work with the center and then come back up to Oakland on the weekend and I'm racing too so I'm doing all I can."

Making the transition to racing from bull riding presented some problems for Demesme.

It's different, it's a whole different movement," Demesme said.

"A bull is more of a twisting and a horse is more jumping."

But that wasn't what caused him trouble breaking into horse racing circles.

The difficulty was that he is black and racism caused some problems.

"I kind of helped break in.

Some young guys started in California and kind of messed up and made it harder for us so I kind of took the pressure for it," Demesme said.

"There are only a few of us.

I think it's eight on the West Coast from Arizona to California and there's one up in Oregon.

It's kind of rough because it's more Hispanics and whites and now Asians are coming in from Japan and all those other places.

It's kind of getting rough for us, but everywhere we go it's kind of hard but we just stick with it.

"There are some good riders, but now the families are getting into it and it's making it easier for them.

There aren't a lot of black trainers on the West Coast that's what makes it hard.

Once you learn how you can be the best.

"It's harder for women than for blacks."

Demesme specializes in thoroughbreds these days.

"I don't ride too many quarter horses.

I'm a thoroughbred rider.

I'll ride all the thoroughbred races except one (this weekend) because that horse is running at Turf Paradise this week," Demesme said.

"I bring a lot of long shots in.

I think all of them are good.

Before I ride them I don't think anything bad.

I just think I'm going to do good and the horse is going to do good.

I'm going there to win the race.

"You've got to give 110 percent to it even if you might not think it's going to be good.

You never know what's going to happen."

Things have changed, though.

These days Demesme is highly successful in Cailfornia.

"This summer I'll be going to Stockton, (Calif.).

That starts June 12," Demesme said.

"I should be doing real good this summer.

Last year I went to Lincoln, Nebr., and got home late, but this year I want to gear up for the whole season.

"The money's good there."

The Arizona County Fair Circuit is work too, but it holds it's own special attraction for Demesme.

"I like Kingman.

There's something about the people.

They are really nice in Arizona.

It's not cynical like in California.

In California it's more business-wise.

In Arizona they are there more for the horses," Demesme said.

"For being little fairs there, we get good crowds.

It's a little smaller than California, but I've been to lots of places where they have bigger attractions than Arizona but not as big of a crowd.

"It's really not the money that makes me go to Arizona.

It's the people.

I have friends there now.

I like to always go and spend time with them when I can.

"It's like a vacation even though I'm working."