Jockey Rene Douglas, who returned to Southern California in September after a seven-year absence, found special gratification in his banner autumn meet at Hollywood Park."I'm happy to be back and doing as good as I'm doing," said Douglas, who had a meet-leading 37 winners with two programs remaining in quest of his first Southern California crown. "I always had an empty hole inside of me when I left California. But I was young, and experience helped."Douglas, a 37-year-old native of Panama, gained that experience in Florida and Chicago and returned a more polished and mature rider. "I came back with a lot of confidence," said Douglas after winning a fourth consecutive Arlington Park title last summer. "I'm focused on what I'm doing. I'm a complete rider."Douglas credited two major influences from Panama for his success: his father and retired jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. "My father always told me if you do something, do it right," said Douglas. "Laffit is a close friend and told me I belonged here. Still, it was hard on me because people had been good to me the last four years in Chicago, and I didn't like to let those people down. But the timing was perfect when the Arlington meet ended in September." Douglas, who lives near Pincay in Arcadia, also picked up Pincay's former agent, Bob Meldahl. "It feels great to be riding so many good horses," said Douglas. He credited Meldahl for his contacts with such leading trainers as Bill Spawr, Bob Baffert, Bobby Frankel and Neil Drysdale."People like Rene's professional attitude," said Meldahl, who handled Pincay from 1990 until his retirement in 2003. "I'm just building."Douglas remained on top during the 36-day meet without winning one stake.Douglas plans to remain a force on the circuit. He said taking the riding title makes him feel more secure about making Southern California his year-round home.
"It's always good to accomplish something you haven't done before," said Douglas. "And the more you win, the better horses you get to ride."I'm focused, and I do my homework," continued Douglas, who is near the $8 million mark in 2004 earnings and is zeroing in on the 3,000 plateau for career victories. He had 2,987 through Dec. 18. "I watch tapes of all the horses I ride and if I make a mistake, I plan not to make the same mistake the next time."Douglas led Tyler Baze by four winners and Victor Espinoza by six with two days to go. He booked off his last two mounts Saturday with a pulled muscle that resulted from steadying Bushwacker after his saddle slipped in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I).