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Feature: Comisky's Humor Goes From $1,200 Purchase to $1 Million Louisiana Derby
By Claire Novak, Special Contributor
NEW ORLEANS(Wednesday, March 28, 2012) – “Believe me, this is some Cinderella story,” Mike Munna said one day at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. “Believe me!”
The owner was referring to his 3-year-old gelding Comisky’s Humor – specifically the fact that this horse purchased for $1,200 on the second-to-last day of the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale will head postward Saturday to contest the 99th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby and maybe even earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
The son of Sharp Humor bred in Kentucky by Buck Pond Farm has run to back-to-back victories under the Mike Munna Racing Stable silks – although no one initially thought he would make it to the winner’s circle. He first started in a six-furlong maiden claimer for $15,000 at Fair Grounds on Jan. 6 this year, and after pressing the pace for a half-mile, he faded in the stretch and finished fourth – 10 ¾ lengths behind the winner. Less than one month later, on Jan. 29, trainer Ron Faucheux Jr. shortened him up and dropped him down to the bottom maiden level – $10,000 – and nobody tried to take him.
“He never really showed huge flash,” said Faucheux, 29. “We kind of brought him along pretty slowly, we didn’t ask him to show us too much. He didn’t put it all together until his second race.”
Five furlongs later, Comisky’s Humor was getting his picture taken as a track-record setter, having gone the distance in 57.03 seconds with a 14-length victory. Jockey Richard Eramia included his input (“this horse wants to go longer,” he said), and Faucheux remarked, “If this horse keeps running like he just did, we should put him in the Louisiana Derby.”
In his next start March 2, Comisky’s Humor ran in a six-furlong starter-allowance race and won by four lengths in 1:09.73.
“I said, ‘Man, I’m all for it, let’s go,’” Munna recalled. “That second race he stumbled coming out of the gate and he made up a lot of ground quick. It’s something special to go back and dissect the race – in five furlongs, he ran 11 and 1 each furlong to the end. To go the distance and never slow down, that’s pretty special. Sometimes the light bulb just clicks and they come around, and I’ll be danged if it didn’t do just that with this horse.”
Munna will never forget that, if it hadn’t been for a friend’s determination to find a specifically colored horse, he might not even be listed as the owner of record in Fair Grounds’ Derby Day program.
“We usually go near the end of the sale to get closer to our price range,” Munna explained of his buying strategy. “We’re not looking to spend a million dollars. My limit is probably $20,000 for one horse. Me and my buddy Harold Delahoussaye pick them out. He’s my mentor and best friend and we have a common interest in these horses – he can’t live without them and I need him to help me with them.”
On the particular sales day in question two years ago, Munna and Delahoussaye traversed the Keeneland Sale in search of runners. Tagging along was Vincent Rizzuto, who wanted to buy one specific kind of horse – a gray roan.
“Harold and I did our homework, got the three horses we’d scoped out that we wanted, and went and sat in the bar,” Munna recalled. “I walked back out to look for Vincent, and there was this bay horse going through the ring. He had a Quarter Horse rear end on him and I said, man, I’m not going to let him go for $1,000. I still don’t know what possessed me to buy him, but I made one bid, no one challenged me, and that’s how I came upon getting this horse for $1,200.”
“I told Vincent, ‘Here, take this one I just bought for $1,200, I know you’re looking for a horse,’ and he said, ‘No, I want a gray roan,’ so I kept him,” he recalled.
As a yearling, Comisky’s Humor was shipped to Munna’s place in Sun, La., a 42-acre farm that plays home to 40-some horses from broodmares and foals to weanlings, yearlings, 2-year-olds, and layups off the track. Munna, 57, was born and raised in Chalmette, La. and grew up the son of a Fair Grounds mutuel clerk. He used to make $2 bets when he was still a student in high school, far before he ever thought of owning racehorses.
“As the years went on, I bet them a lot, and some days you’d have good days and some days you didn’t,” he said. “I was playing horses and I told my buddy, ‘I think the only way to really learn about these horses is to have one of our own.’ We bought a 2-year-old that never did anything and nothing went bad with the partnership, but I just decided I wanted to do it by myself. I started claiming and made some good, good claims. Harold said, ‘Be careful, this stuff is contagious!’ I guess it is.”
Munna, who makes his living in construction, worked in the cleanup effort after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. He said he “took a bad situation and made it good,” bringing in enough funds during the recovery to purchase his acreage and develop a Thoroughbred facility there.
Once Comisky’s Humor learned the basics at the farm, he shipped back to Faucheux, a 29-year-old who has been making noise at Fair Grounds with about 25 horses in training since going out on his own in late 2009 (at the current meet he’s winning at a 35% clip with horses finishing 58% in the money).
The former barn foreman for Eclipse Award winning conditioner Todd Pletcher is no stranger to good horses or to New Orleans’ greatest races, having been born and raised here. His stepfather is Louie Roussel III, the horse owner/trainer who used to own Fair Grounds, and in 2007 while working for Pletcher he shipped in with Circular Quay to saddle that contender to a Louisiana Derby score and Master Command to victory in the New Orleans Handicap.
“To me, growing up in New Orleans, this is my Kentucky Derby,” Faucheux said. “This will be the biggest moment I’ve ever experienced as long as I’ve been in racing. To do well at home at the Fair Grounds is what means the most to me. This is where I’ve always wanted to be, and to be able to compete on this stage at home is extremely satisfying.”
“That’s every horseman’s dream to make it to a big race,” Munna remarked. “Mine wasn’t that high, I just wanted a nice stakes contender. Since the allowance win, I’ve been approached by people wanting to buy him and I’ve passed on some pretty big numbers. I may live to regret it, but I don’t think so. I’ve never been to a big race before with a horse, and I just want to see this horse run on Saturday. When things start clicking and they fall into place, you get a good feeling. I really think we’ve got a good shot.”