LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- At barn 45, where Kandaly is prepping for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, there is the trainer who practices law and the owner who sings and sells cars. It can get confusing.
"You are the singing trainer, no?" a Russian television reporter asked Ronnie Lamarque yesterday.
"No, no, I am the singing owner," Lamarque said slowly, smiling his biggest, easiest car dealer smile.
Almost got it right.
"This man here is the trainer of the horse," said Lamarque, nudging Louie Roussel, "and he doesn't sing. But do you want me to?"
Roussel rolled his eyes. "Don't encourage him, please," said the trainer who practices law.
Lamarque had already sung for one set of cameras -- a doo-wah-diddy version of "Go Kandaly Go," his creation -- and reviewed for another set of cameras the songs he crooned in celebration when he and Roussel won the Preakness and Belmont with Risen Star in 1988.
That's a lot of singing before 8 a.m., but Lamarque has been around racing long enough to know that you don't often make it to the Derby, so, as they said in vaudeville, you better sing while they're listening.
Roussel was not going to waste the attention of a dozen reporters, either. He told a dog joke. (Don't ask.) He explained that Kandaly's post-workout exam was unusually fast because the vet was paid by the minute. (Ha.) He even hummed a few bars of "Going to the Chapel" in honor of Lamarque's recent marital problems, which included the estranged wife's conviction charges of conspiring to have her husband killed. (True story.)
Back home in New Orleans, Roussel, 48, tends to a stable of 30 horses in the early mornings, then changes into a suit and turns into a lawyer and businessman. A millionaire, he has invested in a casino, and is one of a team of 40 lawyers taking on a recently-filed mega-suit against the cigarette companies. He has been a racetrack owner, bank president and municipal court judge. "They called me 'Maximum Louie,' " he said.
As you can tell, barn 45 is not the place to go this year for your standard-issue Kentucky hardboot horse gibberish.
It is, however, the place to go for a printed copy of the words to "Go Kandaly Go." Also the place for an invitation to the New Orleans-style party Lamarque and Roussel are holding for the press and race officials in the Churchill parking lot this afternoon. (Crawfish, jambalaya, ya'll come on.)
It is also the place to go for a frank assessment of Kandaly's chances. "What he has going for him mostly is that everyone back home in New Orleans is praying for him," Roussel said.
In other words . . .
"In other words, we're hoping "We're hoping we get lucky and the Red Sea parts in the home stretch," he said.
Roussel and Lamarque needed a lot less luck with Risen Star, a big, powerful son of Secretariat that emerged as the best three-year-old of his crop. Traffic trouble in the last quarter-mile of the Derby was all that separated him from winning all three legs of the Triple Crown.
"He was an awesome horse, a spectacular horse, a once-in-a-lifetime horse," Roussel said.
How does Kandaly compare?
"Not at all," Roussel said. "Risen Star ate 17 quarts of oats a day, Kandaly struggles to eat 12. Risen Star was the best three-year-old in America. Kandaly is in the second tier. Kandaly is a small horse, almost like a filly. We're just hoping to get lucky."
Some racetrackers still believe that luck and good genes drove Risen Star more than Roussel's horsemanship. Roussel didn't work the colt between the Derby and Preakness, relying on long, leisurely gallops. But Roussel is no piker -- he wins 21 percent of his starts, more than double the national average -- and his
strategy worked. Thus, no second-guessing was heard when he kept Kandaly in the barn for two days.
"The horse is so little, he doesn't have to train much," Roussel said.
Kandaly is a son of Alydar that had won two of three starts when Mrs. Carlton Cole, the breeder and owner, sold a half-interest to Lamarque and Roussel in late February. The colt promptly won the Louisiana Derby to emerge as a Kentucky Derby contender. Stepping up in class, he finished a well-beaten fourth behind Holy Bull in the Blue Grass Stakes.
"Louie wouldn't let me sing before the Blue Grass," said Lamarque, explaining the loss. "I sang 16 times before the Louisiana Derby."
He isn't making the same mistakes twice. A tape of "Go Kandaly Go," with Lamarque backed up by Bobby Cure and the Summertime Band, is getting decent play on local radio stations. A music video, starring Lamarque, Roussel and the horse, has been shown on local TV.
Of course, there are those who insist that the song is better than the horse.
"But I think he can finish in the money," Lamarque said. "He can get the [1 1/4 -mile] distance. He's got the breeding. He's a well-balanced colt. And with all that he's still going to be 40-1 or 50-1."
Not after you get through talking him up like that, someone said.
"You're right," said the singing owner. "The horse is a bum. He's got no shot."