LEXINGTON, Ky. — In the few years since Risen Star almost swept the Triple Crown in 1988, the lives of Louie Roussel III and Ronnie LaMarque have played like a pot-boiling novel:
--Roussel, co-owner and trainer of Risen Star, who had a tough-luck third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby before winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, broke up with his long-time companion, Vickie Bayley, who later had a romance with Roger Clinton, the president's half-brother, before Clinton married someone else.
--Michelle Armstrong, the brave young girl from Klamath Falls, Ore., who rooted for Risen Star and accepted the colt's Eclipse Award on behalf of Roussel and LaMarque at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City in 1989, died after a long battle with leukemia.
--Roussel and his father sold their racetrack, the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, for $25 million in 1990. A seven-alarm fire destroyed the track's ancient grandstand and most of the clubhouse on Dec. 17.
--LaMarque, a New Orleans automobile dealer who also owned Risen Star and was the Triple Crown troubadour in 1988, serenading the colt from track to track, ended a 21-year marriage this week. Carmela LaMarque, his former wife, was given a suspended eight-year sentence last month after having been found guilty of conspiring with relatives to kill her estranged husband.
"I have forgiven, but I won't be forgetting," LaMarque said Thursday. "This has been a tough year."
--On Dec. 17, a few hours before fire swept through the Fair Grounds, an unraced 2-year-old named Kandaly ran in a maiden race there. He won by 2 1/2 lengths, starting a four-race career, and will race in Saturday's $500,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Roussel and LaMarque, the trainer and the troubadour, now own 50% of Kandaly and appear headed for another Kentucky Derby.
"Star was a champion," Roussel said. "This one is just hoping to be as good. But he comes from downtown (far behind), and I like that in a horse. Because I think he can get a mile and a quarter, his ticket's already punched for the Derby, no matter what he does in this race. Kandaly's a son of Alydar, who sired Alysheba and Strike The Gold to win the Derby. There's never a two without a three, is there?"
Roussel, a 48-year-old law school graduate who left banking and insurance to train horses full time a couple of years before Risen Star came along, is a prisoner of superstition, with a little predestination thrown in.
"I think that God is particular about who he gives great horses to," he said at his Keeneland barn, wearing some of the same clothes--a cap and jacket--that stayed with him throughout 1988.
At Thursday's post-position draw, Kandaly's breeder and 50% owner, New York literary agent Rosalind Cole, was looking for Roussel, but LaMarque told her that he would be a no-show.
"Louie believes that going to draws jinxes a horse," LaMarque said.
Kandaly drew the No. 3 post among seven horses in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass and was listed as the 5-1 third choice. Holy Bull, winner of the Florida Derby and beaten only once in seven starts, is the 4-5 favorite, followed by Valiant Nature, winner of December's Hollywood Futurity, at 9-5. Here's the way they'll line up in the gate, with jockeys and odds:
Holy Bull, Mike Smith, 4-5; Warn Me, James Bruin, 30-1; Kandaly, Craig Perret, 5-1; Bonus Money, Earlie Fires, 20-1; Mahogany Hall, Willie Martinez, 20-1; Valiant Nature, Laffit Pincay, 8-5; Chimes Band, Shane Sellers, 10-1. All horses will carry 121 pounds.
In late February, three weeks before the Louisiana Derby, Roussel and LaMarque became Cole's partners, paying what is believed to be in the low six figures for their 50% interest.
In January, in Kandaly's first race as a 3-year-old and his first appearance since his maiden victory, the colt rallied from 15 lengths back and finished second, a length behind the Roussel-trained Star Campaigner at the Fair Grounds.
Kandaly ran one more time for his original trainer, Niall O'Callaghan, winning another Fair Grounds allowance, before he was saddled by Roussel and made up 12 lengths to beat Game Coin by 1 1/2 lengths in the Louisiana Derby.
LaMarque, also 48, has composed a song in honor of Kandaly (can-DOLLY), just as he did for Risen Star in 1988. The Risen Star song, which LaMarque once sang on national television, borrowed music from "When You Wish Upon a Star," "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" and "New York, New York," depending on LaMarque's mood.
LaMarque sang in a Baltimore crab restaurant the night that Risen Star won the Preakness.
"The thing about Ronnie's singing is that he's brave," said Joe Hirsch of the Daily Racing Form. "Some people at the next table threw rolls at him, and they were even buttered rolls."
LaMarque's song for Kandaly is sung to the tune of the old Manfred Mann hit, "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy." LaMarque handed a copy of the lyrics to Rosalind Cole on Thursday and they attempted a duet: