For state Rep. Page Cortez, owning a racehorse began in childhood.
Cortez and his brothers grew up spending every weekend at the racetrack, because their grandfather raised quarter horses.
A trip to the Kentucky Derby as an adult persuaded Cortez, R-Lafayette, to buy his own racehorse. Annie Maria is his sixth horse, and bears the names of Cortez’s niece and daughter. The now 5-year-old horse tends to come from behind in distance races on grass, winning by a nose.
Every Saturday, Cortez makes the 45-minute drive to stables near Opelousas to watch her train.
“I get my coffee. I get out here early, and I watch a number of them work out. They’re such athletes,” he said.
Cortez is one of three Louisiana legislators involved in horse racing.
State Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, breeds quarter horses. He and 19 friends also share ownership of a quarter horse that races.
State Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, bought his first racehorse, Midge 1, in the 1980s to keep his wife occupied while he reported to active duty at Fort Polk. Midge 1 gave birth to three fillies who won more than $1 million in purses.
“For people to have that good of stock, you’d have to own hundreds of horses. We were just blessed,” Burns said.
Horse racing is big business in Louisiana. Bossier City, Vinton, Opelousas and New Orleans have tracks. Horse racing also is hard work.
Thibaut gets up at 4 a.m. when the Legislature is in session to haul his horses to a veterinarian in Breaux Bridge. Two mares and three weanlings occupy the pasture surrounding his rural home in Oscar.
“It’s an investment, but I enjoy doing it. I enjoy going out there every morning and feeding them. I enjoy going out there every evening and feeding them,” he said.
Thibaut started looking into racehorses when he bought 17 acres of land from his grandmother. The acreage wasn’t enough to raise cattle. Racing horses are expensive. He settled on breeding quarter horses.
He bought his first mare, Sayin Together, in 2007. Over time, he bought more, eventually ending up with three mares. He sold one, because she did not produce valuable babies.
“In the end, they’ve got to make money,” Thibaut said. “I try to at least break even.”
As a breeder, he gets 25 percent when a horse he raised wins a big purse in Louisiana.
“I got a few checks in 2009. This past year I did really well. I’m over the hump,” Thibaut said.
Burns’ wife, Lynette, grew up in a small town in Kansas. She said her family always had a horse or two. Now she and her husband live near Louisiana Downs in Bossier Parish.
“We just got the bug,” she said.
In the late 1980s, the U.S. Army Reserves activated Burns, taking him away from his family for a long stretch. His wife told him she wanted to buy a racehorse. They looked at a filly, Midge 1, who had never won a race. Midge 1 put her head on Lynette Burns’ shoulder. The sale was made.
Henry Burns said they paid $10,000 for Midge 1, who went on to win between $50,000 and $70,000 during her racing career. Her babies made even more money.
“She went on to have a dozen babies. Half were boys who weren’t worth anything. Three of the girls made over $1 million in purse money,” Henry Burns said.
Midge 1 still is around, living out her life in a pasture. Henry and Lynette Burns also own a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old who do well at the racetrack.
“I just love the animal,” Lynette Burns said.
For Cortez, owning Annie Maria is a partnership. He shares ownership with his brother-in-law and a trainer.
Annie Marie bunks in stables that also house three of Hall of Fame jockey Randy Romero’s horses.
Cortez bought Annie Maria at auction and ran her in 20 races. She is back in training after several months of rest for a foot injury. She has raced at every track in the state.
He said he will let her play out her career, and then breed her.
“It’s really more of a hobby. As an investment, I wouldn’t advise it,” he said. “It’s difficult to catch lightning in a bottle.”