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 Ail-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 probably did."
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�-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 TA 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� at the half and five down the stretch. The $24,000 purse upped her career earnings to a modest $390,429.