Real Dare's credentials for entrance into the 108th Kentucky Derby include the stipulation he is the best 3-year-old ever bred in Louisiana. Of faint praise, there is none worse, for Louisiana horses move over this mortal coil on hooves of lead. They sometimes can outrun an oak tree, but after a half-mile or so they look for a sofa to fall upon.
Real Dare is a curious story of what money can accomplish if left to work its will at whim. An old Louisiana politician, in failing health, decided six weeks ago he wanted to run a horse in the Derby. He would have paid $3 million for Linkage, except he is owned by a duPont person, to whom $3 million is unpersuasive. Turned down there, the politician peeled off $750,000 for Real Dare.
In a time when oil sheiks pay millions for horses, $750,000 isn't all that much. There is a difference here, however. Most big-money deals swing on a horse's worth in the boudoir, where his savoir faire produces cute little runners. Real Dare is a gelding. They took away his savoir faire, among other things.
No matter. It is said the old politician, J.E. Jumonville Sr., realizes $600,000 a day from a happy geographical accident that placed oceans of oil and gas under his house. This comes to $4.2 million a week, which in a year adds up to a number somewhere between Orson Welles' belt size and Howard Cosell's IQ.
So if an oil and gas millionaire wants to spend about a day's pay on a lead-footed gelding to get a shot at the Kentucky Derby, there should be no surprise when the poor creature shows up at Barn 41 three days before the great race.
Were a goat to walk up and identify himself as the reincarnation of Man o' War, here to run in the race he missed the first time around, the folks running this 108th Derby would yawn from the boredom of it all. Once you have a one-eyed claustrophobic insomniac in the field (Casselaria doesn't like to fly, either), all else pales.
Via a 14-hour van ride up from Lafayette, La., Real Dare arrived in Barn 41 yesterday afternoon.
"He'll run real big," said the trainer, John Mabry, 37, a Texan who studied agriculture at Sam Houston State before scratching the racing itch he inherited from his father, a veteran trainer. "I won't be foolish and say he'll win, but he can run . . . I didn't come down here just so I could tell my grandchildren I ran in the Derby."
Well, if your boss is a billionaire who is in and out of hospitals, and if he spends three-quarters of a million to get a Derby horse, you come to the Derby because he damn well wants you to. Certainly, very little in the record suggests Real Dare is much more than a goat with a long tail.
As a measure of Real Dare's quality, the politician Jumonville sent his trinket prancing in the Louisiana Derby a month ago. He paid maybe $30,000 to import jockey Steve Cauthen from London. In the eight-horse race, Real Dare finished last, beaten from here to the horizon.
"Throw out the Louisiana Derby," Mabry said. "We had an excuse. He was running on the backside, but he got bumped and he wrenched an ankle on the far turn. The ankle got swollen up large. But X-rays were clean, we put ice on it, kept him out of training for nine days and he's fine now."
Mabry tested Real Dare again last Saturday, this time against lesser horses in an allowance race at Jefferson Downs. Although Real Dare is said to hate the mud, he won in a romp during a five-inch rainstorm. That was enough for Jumonville and Mabry. Hook up the trailer, start up the van, get the maps out and find the road to Louisville.
One thing more. The rich are different from you and me. When Jumonville spent his $750,000 for a gelding, he wondered if it would be possible to replace his pet's savoir faire, so to speak. There came a reply from a bloodstock expert in Kentucky that such plumbing repairs had been done on sheep.
"With a gelding of this quality, you'd be interested in seeing about it," Mabry said. "But it's a long way from happening. There's a big difference between sheep and horses."