Same old, same old. I go in to the shop for a tune-up and have to listen to Dennis and Jimmy Richard talk about their horse Bonapaw for three hours. Twin Tire and Automotive is a weird place. The mechanics talk about Beyer numbers and third race off a layoff. In New Orleans, people are nuts about horses.
Identical twins, Dennis and Jimmy have been in racing for 30 years. Talking to them is like listening to a Cheech and Chong record. They finish each other's sentences. Each seems to know what the other is thinking about. Lately, they have a one-track mind, and that's getting their sprinter to Dubai.
Let 'em dream. After all, these guys have worked hard all their lives. At seven years old, they stocked shelves in their father's grocery store, waited tables, and carried out trash in a restaurant. "We were too short to reach the cash register," Dennis said of his childhood chores.
In an academic upset of major proportions, the twins graduated from college and opened a tire shop. They bought some racehorses, but trips to the winner's circle were few and far between. They owned slow horses with ankles the size of grapefruits. Sired by Slow Motion out of a Garbage Can mare, their breeding program was of the backyard variety.
The first claim they made should go down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World's Worst. "His name was Pizza Man and he looked like a Shetland pony," Jimmy remembered. "He was so small the jockey's feet were dragging the ground."
It went on like this for years. Broke at times, scraping money from the tire receipts to pay the feed bills, they kept coming back.
Hard times will make a monkey eat red peppers. They argue about price but eventually decide it's time to buy a quality yearling. With $50,000 of scared, borrowed money, Jimmy headed for Kentucky. The classic tale of the blind pig finding an acorn was about to manifest. Jimmy is wandering around the pavilion on the last day of the 1997 Keeneland September sale, pretending he knows what he is doing, when he bumps into a horse. "He had that wild look in his eye," Jimmy recalled. "I swear he looked me right in the eye. It was scary."
The horse was announced as a ridgling. "I didn't know what the hell that meant," Jimmy admitted. "All I knew was that was going to be my horse." The gavel fell at $6,500 and hip No. 3018 was put on a van for Louisiana.
They named their baby Bonapaw, and training him was like reaching into a shoebox full of scorpions. The son of Sabona needed time and he blossomed on his own schedule. He won the 2001 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park with ease before shipping to Kentucky for the Lane's End Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II), where he lost to Alannan in the last eyeball-popping jump. The twins still talk about that Derby Day like it was a religious experience. "Those people in Kentucky applauded us when we walked over to the paddock," Dennis said. "It was like walking on hallowed ground."
The twins may suffer from toxic shame, but the blue-collar Bonapaw has proven that he belongs with the best. Putting him in a starting gate is like sliding a bullet into the chamber of a rifle. After setting two stakes records from three starts at the current Fair Grounds meet, Bonapaw's lifetime record is 28-13-6-2 with earnings of $624,136.
Now the twins wait by the phone. An invitation to the $6 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) or the $2 million Golden Shaheen sprint (UAE-I) could come at any minute--maybe between oil changes.
"What I know about Dubai you can put on the head of a pin," Dennis said, "but it doesn't take long for a guy like me to pack his bags."
Finally, my car is ready. I try to edge out of the office, past the wall of Bonapaw trophies. The twins are animated, insistent.
"Bonapaw has taken us to places we never imagined and we are going to be loyal to him. He will never be sold and he will never run in a claiming race," Jimmy said.
Or was it Dennis? GARY McMILLEN, assistant human resources director at the LSU Health Science Center, covers Fair Grounds for The Blood-Horse.