HE rode his first winner when he was eight. Nearly 4,000 have flowed since, including three successive Breeders' Cups and any follower of American racing will tell you that Randy Romero can mix it with the very best. Some will even say that he is the best and that includes none other than Patrick Biancone. ''At the very outside, he's been in the top five jockeys in America for at least the last 10 years,'' says Biancone. ''Off a horse he is one of the most gentle, charming people you could meet. On a horse he is a winner. He has perfect balance. He blends in with the animal. He is just a natural horseman.'' Biancone, who spent part of his career before becoming a trainer in his own right, learning about the game in the States, has an anecdote for all occasions. It is no exception as far as Romero is concerned. ''Angel Penna once said that Yves Saint Martin's lights do not come on until the gates open and they go off immediately he passes the winning post. ''It is exactly the same with Randy. Riding horses and riding winners is what drives him. It is what makes him.'' And it all started in a world far divorced from the modernism of Hong Kong. Romero grew up on the family farm in Lafayette, Louisiana, where there were only dirt roads and everyone not only had a horse, they raced them. The horses came in all shapes and sizes, too. Flicker was the animal who propelled Romero on his journey to stardom and, believe it or not, he was a Shetland pony. ''Hell, he was the fastest thing over 50 yards that I've ever sat on,'' smiles Romero at the memory of those match races he and his beloved Flicker won on those Lafayette dirt tracks. ''I was the smallest of five brothers so they threw me up on him. We won and from that moment on I wanted to be nothing else but a jockey. My mind was set and that was that. ''That horse used to win all the money. We'd save up our allowances all week and bet the lot on him. He'd never let us down.'' There was no specific racing background in Romero family. ''My daddy was a policeman,'' he continues in that southern drawl which is going to become so distinctively familiar over here. But there is a strong racing presence these days. His older brother Gerald has worked his way up to becoming one of the most formidable trainers in Kentucky and another is a farrier, or a horse shoer as they call them more plainly in the States. The family history, the way they progressed from nothing, from those match races in the country to preparing some of the best Quarterhorses in the States, has even been dramatised with Walter Matthau playing Romero's father. Romero was only 15 years old when he was riding for US$1 million purses in the All-American Futurity for these speedsters who compete over a quarter of a mile, hence their name. From there Romero realised he had to turn to Thoroughbreds if he was to really make it as a jockey. And make it he certainly has. By his own reckoning he needs just another 30 odd winners to break through the 4,000-winner mark. He has been the leading rider in Louisiana, Kentucky, Florida, New York and Chicago. He took the 1987 Breeders' Cup, the world's richest race, on Saquista and for good measure he plundered the event in the following seasons on the brilliant and unbeaten filly Personal Ensign and then Go For One. He was heading for four Breeders' Cups in a row but Go For One broke her leg in the shadows of the post 12 months later. Romero has won six races in one day twice and once won four Group or Stakes races, including the US$1 million Florida Derby and three supporting Stakes valued at $300,000, $200,000 and $50,000. Not bad work if you can get it! He could never be accused of being shy at coming forward but there is a charm, almost an innocence about the way he does it, rather than a big-headed belligerence. ''I was a superstar from the day I started,'' he declares in his endearing, infectious style. He continues: ''It is a great opportunity for me to come here. I'm a dedicated guy. I'm serious and all business and I will work hard to try to be number one and to try to win some of the big races. That would really put a feather in my hat. ''Everyone has been so good to me. I love the people and I love the beautiful scenery, all those mountains and the water. ''I've got a great guy to ride for in Gary [Ng]. He's a true blue and so am I. He has already taught me so much about the place. ''And so long as I'm doing well and people want me, I plan to stay.'' That could be for some considerable time.