Roussel found himself center stage in 1988 with Risen Star, a son of Secretariat who would go on to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) but could finish no better than third behind an imposing filly named Winning Colors on the first Saturday in May.
Now the charismatic trainer is back, on the 20th anniversary of his champion colt’s defeat with another bay horse. And as the Derby approaches, Roussel can be found walking around the backside of Churchill Downs wearing a jacket from the days of Risen Star’s journey on the Triple Crown trail that sports the colt’s name and his connections.
“It is with me during the winter months to remind me,” Roussel said of the jacket. “It has always been with me. In the summer months, it stays retired. It is part of me. It has some great memories.”
The 62-year-old trainer, who used to be the majority owner and president of the Fair Grounds, was born in New Orleans and still calls Louisiana home. Like Risen Star, he owns Recapturetheglory in partnership with Ronnie Lamarque.
Although Illinois Derby winner (gr. II) Recapturetheglory is Roussel’s first Derby horse since Kandaly in 1994, he has owned and trained more than 20 stakes winners including grade II winner Jaunatxo.
“I saved the name Recapturetheglory for a long time, and hoped I didn’t give it away lightly,” Roussel said of his Derby colt’s name. “We were very lucky it turned out to be quite apropos. We gave it to him for the 20th anniversary and hoped it turned at well. In the beginning, it looked like we had wasted the name, but he got it together. It isn’t how you start, it is how you finish.”
Although Recapturetheglory will not be one of the favorites in the Run for the Roses, he has settled into his routine at Churchill Downs.
“He is doing real good,” said Roussel. “It is serious with me; he doesn’t go out there, and just fool around. He jogs one mile, and he gallops two miles.
“I think (Churchill Downs) is wonderful for the animals because they get a chance to graze, and he doesn’t get the chance in Chicago or the Fair Grounds, basically. He goes out there and grazes in the morning and the afternoon. Instead of being in the stall 23 hours a day, he gets another extra hour out.”
While Recapturetheglory is not as accomplished as Roussel’s champion from two decades ago, the son of Cherokee Run is helping his trainer to relive the past.
“I am enjoying being here with him,” said Roussel. “I love the people here, and everybody has been so kind to me. Like I have said many times, this is the ultimate race to win. It defines a career if you can win.”