As Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush in the screwball comedy A Day at the
Races, Groucho Marx played a sanitarium director with a dark
secret: His degree was in veterinary medicine. After taking the
pulse of a human patient, Dr. Hackenbush announced, "Either he's
dead, or my watch has stopped."
Last Saturday in the 11th race at tiny Louisiana Downs near
Shreveport, the hearts of 7,123 spectators stopped for 1:09 4/5
while a dark bay filly named Hallowed Dreams covered six
furlongs. The three-length victory was the undefeated
3-year-old's 16th straight, tying the modern American record set
by Citation in 1950 and equaled 46 years later by Cigar.
"Hallowed Dreams and I are true Cajuns," said Lloyd Romero, her
trainer and co-owner. "We've brought the record to Louisiana for
the Louisiana people."
Romero is the screwiest of the cast of screwballs surrounding
Hallowed Dreams. The bluff, gruff onetime state trooper is best
known as the father of jockey Randy Romero, who made his name
with the great Personal Ensign. That filly retired in 1988 at
13-0, a distaff standard Hallowed Dreams surpassed on June 3 in
a $30,000 handicap at Evangeline Downs.
As stubborn as a talking mule, Lloyd refuses to race Hallowed
Dreams in a graded stakes or outside Louisiana. "If horses from
other states want to challenge mine, they can come here," he
says. "Last I checked, planes flew in both directions."
In fact, no Romero nag has left Louisiana since 1975, the year
he took his unbeaten quarter horse, Rocket's Magic, to New
Mexico for the All-American Futurity. With 16-year-old Randy in
the saddle, the 2-1 favorite finished third. Two months later,
Rocket's Magic broke down and had to be destroyed.
The sad tale inspired the 1978 movie Casey's Shadow, in which
the character based on Lloyd was played by that old railbird
Walter Matthau, who died on July 1. "Walter probably looked down
excitedly on Hallowed Dreams today," Romero said after her
victory on Saturday. "If an angel can pee in his pants, Walter
Romero and partner Johnny Gaspard bought Hallowed Dreams for
$15,000 as a 4-month-old, sight unseen. Her sire, Malagra, was a
splendid sprinter who set the New Orleans Fair Grounds's
six-furlong record (1:08 4/5) in 1990. Romero had wanted his son
to ride her last year, but the two were estranged, and Randy was
about to retire."He forgot I'm his daddy and told me no," says
Lloyd. "Well, shame on him. Now I've broken his record."
Hallowed Dreams's riders seem to have walked out of the pages of
a Dick Francis novel. First up was C.J. Woodley, a jockey turned
steward turned jockey. After an eight-length romp in the filly's
maiden race, Woodley was supplanted by Billy Patin, who in the
spring of '99 was suspended for five years for using an
electrical device on Valhol, the first horse to cross under the
wire in last year's Arkansas Derby. Patin galloped to a
4 1/2-length victory in a five-furlong race and handed the reins
to Sylvester Carmouche, known as Fog Jockey for taking a
mist-shrouded shortcut to the winner's circle aboard Landing
Officer at Delta Downs in 1990.
The crafty Carmouche had skipped part of the first lap of a mile
race by hiding his 23-1 long shot on the backstretch in thick
fog. When the other jockeys approached on the second lap, he
bolted ahead, out of sight, to a 24-length victory. Fifteen
minutes later stewards disqualified his horse. Carmouche was
banished for 10 years and served more than eight years of that
suspension before his license was reinstated.
With Carmouche aboard, Hallowed Dreams has held the lead at
every call but one, a Fair Grounds sprint in which she was
second at the half-mile mark but which she wound up winning by 7
1/4 lengths. On Saturday, in a field of only four, the 1-9 short
shot broke on top and quickly got clear. She led by four lengths
at the quarter pole, 3 1/2 at the half and five down the
stretch. The $24,000 purse upped her career earnings to a modest
Romero says he has been offered $2 million for the filly but
isn't selling. "I don't need the money," he insists. "It takes
$4,000 to bury somebody, and I got that. What more do I need?"
He plans to go for the record on either Aug. 20 or Sept. 17 at
Louisiana Downs. "With this horse, nothing's impossible," he
says. "She's a gift from God."
Hallowed be thy name.
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS COVATTA
"With this horse, nothing's impossible," says Romero. "She's a
gift from God."