Looking back, I was an easy mark, a guy with a lot more dollars than sense. For starters, I let my old pal and fellow wag, James Gill of The Times-Picayune, talk me into "investing" $5,000 in an equine syndicate. Our goal was simple: get a bunch of guys to post five grand each, buy a nag, turn it over to a good trainer, and -- voila!
Thanks to the Cinderella tale of Funny Cide, this story has a familiar ring. Unfortunately, our little syndicate -- Razoo Stables -- hasn't exactly followed in the footsteps of the owners of this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. In fact, we've gone in the opposite direction. Less than a year ago, we had $50,000 in the bank and hopes of claiming a sprinter. Today we have less than $5,000 and a filly with a fractured cannon bone. I don't even know what a cannon bone is, but I know what it costs to fix one. (Turns out I'm not the dumbest member of Razoo Stables -- my fellow "investors" made me the group's treasurer!)
To be fair, Gill has his bona fides as a horseman, having published two books on bloodlines and racecourses. And fellow columnist Ronnie Virgets, another Razooan, has been a fixture at the Fair Grounds since John Henry was cheap claimer.
Then again, time has shown they're no better judges of horseflesh than, say, Charlie DeWitt.
DeWitt, you may recall, is the speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives who also got into thoroughbred ownership a few years back. But, unlike the pikers in Razoo Stables, he could teach a course on how to do it on the cheap.
Two years ago, Fair Grounds owner Bryan Krantz invited DeWitt and two lobbyists to share ownership in a pair of Krantz nags. For no money down and nothing up-front toward the horses' upkeep, Redneck Racing -- the partnership formed by DeWitt and the lobbyists -- got a 49 percent interest in Noinbetweeners and Voodoo Princess. DeWitt says the venture was "strictly a business deal," but what kind of "business people" give away 49 percent for nothing in return?
Purely by coincidence, DeWitt had pushed several pieces of legislation that benefited the Fair Grounds. He helped pass a bill in 1994 that waived the track's video-poker taxes so that its clubhouse and grandstand could be rebuilt after a devastating fire. He also wrote the law that gave the track exclusive rights to take telephone and Internet bets, and he led the push for legislative approval of slot machines at the track.
Krantz and DeWitt assure us that the Speaker's legislative efforts on behalf of the track had nothing to do with the generous terms of their venture. Yeah, right. Is Krantz that slow? Or is DeWitt that shrewd? The Speaker does, after all, hail from a town that gave its name to a champion thoroughbred -- Lecompte.
The deal is an outrage, even by Louisiana standards, and it proves that we still have more horses' asses than horses. But the equine gods have a way of getting even. One of the group's two nags died after its first race (in which it finished out of the money). The other posted an undistinguished record for the Krantz-Redneck venture -- but went on to win more than $100,000 for a subsequent owner.
Which is not to say that DeWitt has been properly punished. A bad return on a sleazy deal is no substitute for justice.
In the meantime, I hope to have an easier time getting out of the house the next time I tell my bride I'm going to see a man about a horse. Who knows? I might return with 49 percent of the next Seabiscuit.