Gene Short saw the light at Evangeline Downs last summer.

A jockeys' agent, Short had driven four hours from Bossier City, La., to the Lafayette track for a weekend getaway with his wife and to scout a promising rider he knew only as Pee Wee.

"I'm watching this race, and I see this jock named Desormeaux split horses, then change hands with the whip four or five times and win with a horse that pays $99," Short said. "I said, 'Forget Pee Wee, I want Desormeaux's book.' "

As a camera flashed in the winner's circle, Short focused on his future; he found out from a man in the grandstand that the 5-foot-2, 103-pound Kent Desormeaux was, in fact, Pee Wee and that the jockey had a lot of time before losing the weight allowance granted an apprentice.

"I really saw the dollar signs then," Short said.

They are no less visible now. For Pimlico Race Course's spring meeting, which ended Saturday, Desormeaux, 17, outdistanced his rivals by a staggering margin. He had 110 victories -- his closest pursuer was Donald Miller Jr., with 37 -- and at least one triumph on 53 of the 60 racing days. Eight winners in the first three days of Laurel's current meeting gives the Maurice, La., native a nation-leading 200 victories for the year, 10 of them stakes.

Only one jockey has ever produced more winners over a 60-day meeting at Pimlico -- Chris McCarron, who won 118 as an apprentice in 1974. Desormeaux stole all the drama from the Eugene (Butch) Eseman Award, presented to Pimlico's top apprentice.

"That's what makes it fun: setting your goals and trying to beat records," he said in a youthful voice that has lost much of its Cajun flavor. "That's what it's all about. I'd probably ride for no money; I love what I do, and I hate to lose. If I've got one {horse} on the side of me, I'm gonna try to beat him, no matter where I am in the race."

He burst upon the Maryland circuit last fall, arriving at Laurel Race Course with Short and trainer David Vance. The stay was supposed to be temporary. Vance, who was struggling, followed the itinerary; Desormeaux, who was streaking, stayed put.

He made one misstep in his sprint through Maryland's riding ranks, and it happened in his first race, Oct. 17 at Laurel. Desormeaux's mount, Shonda's Shickels, drifted in the stretch, resulting in her disqualification from second place and a seven-day suspension for her pilot.

Desormeaux was used to getting away with a lot worse at Louisiana's tracks, where the action at times can be akin to equine roller derby. He hit the bushes at age 12, riding at a track leased by his father.

"Whoo, they get nasty down there," Desormeaux said with a smile. "This is easy street here. Down there, they'll put you over the rail; they'll do anything to win, and there's no rules. I mean, the owner of the track will usually try to keep it straight. But still they bump around and, coming out of the gate, they'll shut you off. It's real rough-ridin' there."

In a raspberry golf shirt, turquoise-and-white Jams and Docksiders with no socks, Desormeaux hardly looked combative. But there is no mistaking his resolve, documented by 495 mounts for the Pimlico meeting -- an average of better than eight per day, and at least 240 more than any other jockey on the grounds.

"The first couple times I rode 10 horses {on one card}, I did get tired," he said. "But now, it's just like a day's work. In fact, if I ride eight or seven, I can't keep still at night. I end up goin' to play basketball or somethin'."

The reportedly able point guard has had a big assist from Short, who successfully courted some of Maryland's most productive stables, those of King Leatherbury, Ron Alfano, Barclay Tagg.

"We got lucky," Short said. "We got in with a few barns that happened to be in a slump. Then their horses started coming back around and we started lightin' up the board.

"One thing {Hall of Fame} trainer Jack Van Berg told me when I first started was never turn anybody around. If you commit yourself to ride a horse, ride him, even if it turns out he's not the best horse in the race. I try to be as honest and forward as I can, and it seems to help."

Short has kept his head amid the whirlwind of fortune. As the victories began to come with sweeping regularity, talk surfaced of relocating to New York, land of larger purses and broader exposure.

"We were thinking about that," Short said. "But I told Kent that if we go up to New York, he'd have to start by riding one or two a day and work his way up. We'd be blowing the best part of the bug."

Short is aware of the dropoff many Maryland jockeys experience after losing the five-pound advantage (Desormeaux's will end Aug. 15). Allen Stacy, last year's Eclipse Award-winning apprentice, won just 12 of 163 races at Pimlico without the weight break.

"I know some of 'em are parking lot attendants now," Short said. "And {Desormeaux} is gonna lose some business, don't get me wrong. But I just feel like this kid's gonna be one of the top riders in Maryland for a long time."

"I still get that chill that works through you, that gets you excited," Desormeaux said. "I can't wait for the gate to open. To get things moving, to be on the reins, to try to get there first. I don't ever see that wearin' off."