"Ronnie Lamarque never met a microphone or a reporter's notebook he didn't love," said Louie Roussel, the other half of the wacky Cajun connection, the trainer and part owner of Kandaly and Risen Star, a man who has been lawyer, judge, race-track owner, and bank president, and long has had one of the highest profiles in the high-profile city of New Orleans.
"In New Orleans, I can't get him to come to the barns. It's amazing what reporters will do."
Lamarque, 48, had his troubles last fall. Seems he got involved with a younger woman. And his wife of 21 years, Carmella, was not pleased.
She hatched a Keystone Kops plot against her husband. One of the plotters
went to the police immediately. They told Lamarque what was happening and he was supposed to play dumb - as the cops nabbed the plotters. While playing along, Lamarque watched his back.
Arrests and then deals were made. Divorce proceedings sped along. "Free Carmella" bumper stickers started appearing in New Orleans. On Jan. 29, the now-ex-wife pleaded guilty to plotting to kill Lamarque. This being New Orleans and Lamarque not pressing the issue, she avoided prison, spent several weeks in a psychiatric institution and now is free. Separation of property awaits.
"I forgive, but I don't forget," Lamarque said.
"If you see his girlfriend, you'll understand why," said his good friend, Roussel, clearly moved deeply by Lamarque's predicament.
"It never stopped," Lamarque said. "It was Page One. It's really tough when you read it in the paper. I was just trying to be happy with my life. And it's apparent my partner didn't want that to happen."
While Lamarque said this, Roussel started singing - "Going to the chapel and I'm gonna get married" - in the background. Serious, these guys. Very serious.
During the spring of 1988, even after winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, all Lamarque and Roussel could talk about was the Derby. Risen Star had finished third in the Derby behind Winning Colors and Forty Niner. With just a bit of luck, he could have won and been a Triple Crown winner.
"When we came here in '88, this place was like a fog," Lamarque said. ''Now, it's so clear. What if we would have worked him Friday? What if he hadn't had the one hole? What if? The Derby got away. Darn, the Derby got away."
Said Roussel: "Time dulls the effect, but, afterward, it was a horrible experience. I knew I ran the best horse. I think everybody else knew I ran the best horse.
"How many chances do you have to win the Triple Crown? And to lose it when you have the best horse, that's a bitter pill to swallow."
Even today, people come up to Roussel and say, "You're Louie Roussel. You had the horse Risen Star. Won the Derby." Roussel doesn't tell them any different.
Kandaly is no Risen Star, not even close. He has little or no chance to win this Derby. Even Lamarque calls him a light-heavyweight against heavyweights.
"We know he's got to come from way out of it," Lamarque said. "We know he's got to have a wicked speed duel up front. Hopefully, we'll have a duel up front and we can pass tiring horses. Suppose he runs his last quarter in 24 seconds. That would be unheard of, huh? But if he's 14 lengths out of it, he still can't win."
"If we're within 8 lengths at the three-eighths pole, you can lock it up," Lamarque said. "We'll win."
Did somebody say lock it up?
Having a longshot didn't stop Lamarque from bringing 2,000 pounds of crayfish with him from New Orleans yesterday and feeding anybody with a semblance of a credential who happened to walk by the Churchill Downs parking lot after the races. And that won't stop him and Roussel, not now, not ever. They crave the action.
Lamarque has written a bad song about Kandaly that nobody ever will remember. But he's still singing and still smiling. Which is far better than being the featured performer on "Hard Copy."