When Lourdes Lopez the ballerina met Lourdes Lopez the racehorse for the first time, in late June, the display of mutual admiration was enough to turn any matchmaker green with envy. The track at Saratoga, N.Y., was not yet open for its 1987 meeting, so the only horses and people in evidence were backstretch regulars. Instead of the usual prerace tension, there was a calm, almost sleepy atmosphere.
In her stall, the filly greeted the visitor politely, accepted affection happily, even nuzzled a bit, playfully. She then let herself be led down a training track by the dancer and delicately chomped a handful of clover that the visitor offered. Something was going on here. The ballerina had never been around horses before, and this particular horse was not known for her good manners. Owner Harry (Chip) Landry felt all the more certain that he'd done the right thing in selecting the name for his filly.
Landry usually breeds horses to sell, but in 1985, when no one wanted this bay yearling, he decided to keep her and race her himself. He knew exactly what name to give her, and giving a horse the proper name is no small accomplishment. The ideal appellation should describe the creature, convey ancestry and provide a little good luck. And, for Landry, the ideal name should also begin with L. The pigeon-toed filly had Northern Dancer as an ancestor; she was foaled in Saratoga, the summer home of the New York City Ballet; and she was as sleek and trim as a ballet dancer herself. It seemed perfectly clear to the 49-year-old Landry and his wife, Louise, avowed balletomanes, that they should name their horse after their favorite ballerina—whose name begins with L. In fact, both her names begin with L.
Lourdes Lopez was born in Cuba; her family fled the Castro regime for Miami when she was a year old. She joined the City Ballet in 1974, when she was 16. The Landrys first spotted Lopez when she was a junior member of the corps. They were taken with her dark beauty and elegant line, and they have enjoyed watching her develop into a full-fledged ballerina. Lopez is not afflicted with pigeon toes. In performance she combines grace, speed and dignity with superior athletic ability. The Landrys hoped that naming their filly for the ballerina might give the horse a leg up in acquiring a few of those virtues for herself.
Ballerinas never know who's going to show up backstage, so Lopez wasn't surprised when a photographer friend brought the Landrys to see her after a performance at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Lopez had just performed her first Theme and Variations, a devilishly demanding dance to music by Tchaikovsky, and her dressing room was already crowded with well-wishers. The ballerina was surprised when the Landrys asked to appropriate her name for their horse—surprised, but pleased. After hearing out the filly's owners, it made sense to Lopez, too. "After all," she says with a shrug, "Mr. Balanchine [George Balanchine, cofounder of the New York City Ballet] always referred to his dancers as thoroughbreds."
Lourdes Lopez and the equine Lourdes Lopez could not differ more in personality. The dancer has always been focused and disciplined. She was only 14 when she left her parents in Miami and came to New York City to five with an older sister and further her dance studies. In contrast, the filly is fractious and fiery. She was very slow to mature and was never raced as a 2-year-old. On her first road trip, she kicked out the sides of her trailer, and she was, according to Landry, "the toughest horse to break that I have ever seen." Last January, however, she won her first start, a 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ-mile maiden race at Aqueduct. At the finish the victorious filly was looking for more, thereby proving that she shares one important trait with her human counterpart: stamina enough to stay fresh during a long performance.
The horse now has won three of her nine races and $52,408, and Landry has received regular offers to buy her. He has turned them all down, and when one disappointed bidder asked Landry if the reason he wanted to keep the filly was because she was named for one of his children, he could only chuckle.
It was an understandable mistake. The Landrys live in a house in Pennington, N.J., with six adopted children, all of whom were born in Chile. Five years ago, when the youngest of their own four children had grown up and left home, the Landrys moved from their farm in Warrenton, Va., to a town house in Lambertville, N.J., on the banks of the Delaware River. And got bored. "It really was beautiful," says Chip, "but we found ourselves constantly feeding the ducks and geese and wondering why we weren't doing more. It just wasn't us."
In 1985, after seeing a televised appeal, the Landrys decided that they would adopt two abandoned brothers from an orphanage in Limache, Chile, who would otherwise have been separated. When the Landrys discovered the boys also had a sister, they agreed to adopt her, too. Then, last year the Landrys received a telephone call saying the mother of their three adopted children had abandoned two more infants. "We'll take them," Chip said instantly while Louise turned slightly ashen. And recently the household swelled by one more when the mother's teenage sister also became a Landry. "It's really been something," says Chip. "From the moment we saw each child, we knew that he or she belonged with us." After a pause he adds, "But I don't know what we'll do if the mother continues to have babies."
The arrival of the first Chilean children caused problems in the Landry household-because they spoke only Spanish, of which the Landrys knew not a word. Luckily, though, they had recently become friends with a bilingual ballerina. Lopez became their sometime translator. The children are now learning English; the Landrys have learned some Spanish; and Lopez, still a frequent guest, often takes the children to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to watch rehearsals and to tour backstage.
Every time Lourdes Lopez has been scheduled to race, Lopez has been scheduled to dance, so the ballerina has never been able to cheer her equine namesake to the finish line. In fact, Lopez has never seen a thoroughbred race in her life and has only once been to the trotters. But when Lourdes Lopez ran in an allowance race at Belmont on June 13, the ballerina managed to stop by an OTB office on her way to rehearsal. Rummaging through her purse in search of two singles, she could only find a $20 bill. So the nongambler decided to put it all down on a win ticket, and the next day the heads of OTB habituès spun as she glided up to the window to collect the $80 and change that her 3-1 namesake had won for her.
Lopez still wants to see Lourdes Lopez race someday, but the horse has proved to be a filly who likes to run on grass and who does best at longer distances, so there aren't many races from which to choose. An ideal contest was the Mt. Vernon at Belmont on July 26, 1¼ miles on the turf. It was a few days before that stakes race that the dancer visited the horse who shares her name and learned that the horse was showing signs of tendinitis and might have to be scratched from the Mt. Vernon. Now, tendinitis is something ballet dancers know a lot about. They get it all the time. In fact, Lopez had recently suffered a bout of jumper's knee, a problem not unlike the horse's ailment. The ballerina tried all the usual remedies: ice, massage, everything but total rest. Total rest was totally out; the dance must go on.
None of the remedies was working, though, and Lopez was in real pain and worried that she would miss some performances. Finally, Marika Molner, the City Ballet Company's physical therapist, suggested laser treatments. They worked, and within three, days the dancer had recovered, without missing a performance. When Lopez suggested that Landry might want to try similar therapy for his filly, the trainer couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had started Lourdes Lopez on the laser machine only two days before. It took four days for the horse to recover, and she made it to the Belmont starting gate, finishing out of the money, though sound.
Once again the ballerina was unable to see her namesake run. She was not dancing, but she did have an unbreakable appointment. At two in the afternoon of July 26, shortly before Lourdes Lopez came down the homestretch at Belmont, Lourdes Lopez the ballerina walked down the aisle at St. Clement's Roman Catholic church in Saratoga to marry attorney Lionel Saporta.
Lourdes Lopez the horse gallops at Saratoga as Lourdes Lopez the dancer does a jetè.
Daphne Hurford is the author of "The Right Moves, "a book on male ballet dancers.