1988: When Risen Star shone as a New Orleans horse who made a name for himself
This story is almost too good to be true, like a Frank Capra movie in which the underdogs always triumph. In this case, the underdogs were the New Orleanians Ronnie Lamarque and Louie Roussel III, who paid $300,000 for a son of the immortal racehorse Secretariat. Risen Star didn’t quite match his dad’s achievement, but in 1988 he did win two legs of the Triple Crown — the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes — as well as the Eclipse Award as 1988’s top 3-year-old colt. To complete the Capraesque scenario, Risen Star’s cheering section that year included the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were promised a portion of the thoroughbred’s winnings.
After suffering an injury in the Belmont Stakes, Risen Star retired to stud. He died on March 3, 1998 — the 10th anniversary of his victory in the Louisiana Stakes — and was buried at Walmac International, a horse farm outside Lexington, Kentucky. His bloodline lives on, though, with offspring including the Grade I winner Star Standard and the German runner Risen Raven. Every year, the Fair Grounds remembers the former champion by hosting the Risen Star Stakes, a race for 3-year-olds.
- Risen Star’s lifetime winnings amounted to slightly more than $2 million. The Little Sisters of the Poor received $100,000 and a station wagon, said Mother Mary Vincent, who was the order’s superior in New Orleans.
- Roussel was a novice in the world of high-stakes racing, and he didn’t try to hide it. He frequently told reporters, “What I know about training, you could put under a gnat’s armpit.”
- Lamarque was known to burst into song on national television in praise of his steed.
- Riding Risen Star for his three Triple Crown races was New Iberia native Eddie Delahoussaye.
- Risen Star posted the second-fastest time in the Belmont Stakes to that point. The only horse that finished faster? His sire, Secretariat. Today, while Secretariat’s time is still atop the list, Risen Star’s time is fourth-best.
- Before the 1988 Kentucky Derby, two nuns visited Roussel and gave him this prayer: “Cast aside those gloomy thoughts/That bring on doubt and fear./Just live your faith and trust in Him,/And worry will disappear.”
- In Risen Star’s obituary, which ran on the front page of The Times-Picayune, Mother Joseph, a nun at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Algiers residence, said the nuns prayed for the horse and displayed a picture of him in their auditorium.
- Risen Star’s pedigree is impressive. He was the son of Secretariat, who, in turn, was the son of Bold Ruler, who won the 1957 Preakness Stakes and was named Horse of the Year that year.
- In 2008, 20 years after Risen Star ran in the Kentucky Derby, another Lamarque-Roussel 3-year-old, Recapturetheglory, competed in that race. The horse, no relation to Risen Star, placed fifth. Three years later, he won the $100,000 Louisiana Handicap.
Nearly 30 years have passed since Risen Star’s memorable run, but his name still has the power to make people smile as a New Orleans horse who made a name for himself – and, by extension, the city — in the heady world of big-money horse racing. His success came at just the right time, Mother Mary Vincent said, because it gave the city a much-needed morale boost. “That Risen Star,” she said, “was a star.”