Just across from the finish line, Vicky Bayley, Roussel's fianc�e, jumped into the winning trainer's arms. She hadn't seen the race ("I was praying; I couldn't look"), but she had listened when, before the start, Roussel "the Indecisive" turned to her and said with authority. "He's going to run the race of his life."
Roussel, 42, is not your everyday trainer. He's the major shareholder in the Fair Grounds track in New Orleans, where his father. Louis J. Roussel Jr., is president. He's engaged to be married to the administrative assistant of the track. He's a lawyer, a former bank president, a devout Roman Catholic—and more than a little superstitious.
Although he remembered to bring his "lucky bean" and his rosary beads to Pimlico on Saturday, Roussel was horrified when he realized he had left his religious medals in his hotel room. He quickly dispatched his future father-in-law, Perry Bayley, back to fetch them.
It was a lucky day for Roussel when he bought Risen Star for $300,000 at a 2-year-olds-in-training sale in Florida last year. He then offered half a share in him to his flamboyant friend Ron Lamarque, who owns a car dealership and a pretty fair singing voice, which he unleashed in the winner's circle with his nationally televised rendition of 'Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.
A few months ago, Roussel was asked to make a donation to the Little Sisters of the Poor in New Orleans; he said he would give part of Risen Star's purses if the nuns would pray for the horse (whose name stands for "the risen Christ and the Star of Bethlehem"). No one is claiming that the colt's success is the result of prayer power, but Risen Star has now won seven of 10 races. "He's the best 3-year-old in America," Roussel said after the Preakness.
But much of what was said after that race was less exultant. A subdued Lukas said, "He [ Stephens] made a commitment, I think, to beat the filly instead of probably trying to win the race. And that's what happened. Given the pace and what Woody tried to do, carrying us wide in the turns, we're very proud of her." Winning Colors' jockey was more pointed. "People were saying it was a match race all week long, but we had eight other horses in the race," said Stevens. "Jealousy is a powerful thing, and it cost that man [ Stephens] a lot more than it cost us."
Back at the barns, an unperturbed Stephens answered questions. Did he think the filly would have won if Forty Niner hadn't gone with her? "Sure," Woody replied. "Now I know that and now Lukas knows. She's a good filly—but I had to find that out."
On June 11 the racing world will find out if the 1�-mile Belmont Stakes will provide the next episode of the Wayne and Woody Show. But Roussel, for one, feels that the Belmont is a race in which Risen Star will really excel. If he's right, and his colt wins, he will pocket the $1 million bonus awarded to the horse who earns the most points in all three Triple Crown events. The Little Sisters of the Poor are likely to send up a few extra prayers between now and then.