08/15/2006 12:00AM

A brother act worth catching

Louisiana Downs
Lonnie Meche (center) is 2nd in the Louisiana Downs standings, just ahead of brothers Cody (right) in 3rd and Donnie (left) in 4th.

BOSSIER CITY, La. - Lonnie Meche didn't have a shot to finish his breakfast on a recent morning at Louisiana Downs. His twin brother, Donnie, and his younger brother, Cody, whizzed around him as he was eating. Donnie took sips of his Gatorade, and Cody ate a portion of his sandwich. And that is how it has been in the standings here, too, with Donnie and Cody whizzing around second-leading rider Lonnie Meche.

Heading into Thursday, Lonnie has ridden 59 winners this meet, nine behind leading rider Carlos Gonzalez. Cody Meche ranks third in the standings with 42 wins, and Donnie Meche ranks fourth with 41 wins. Together this meet, the Meches have combined to win 142 races and purses of $2,592,520.

There is little precedence for such an accomplishment by riding brothers. It is rare enough to find two brothers who ride, let alone three making a dent in the standings at the same track.

"It's not an everyday occurrence," said Joe Hirsch, a columnist for 54 years for Daily Racing Form. "It's very unusual."

Laverne Fator, a member of the Hall of Fame, was one of three brothers who rode in the 1920's and 1930's, according to Cathy Schenck, librarian for Keeneland.

Ivan Parke, also in the Hall of Fame, was from a family of at least three brothers who rode in the 1920's, said Don Grisham, a retired columnist with Daily Racing Form.

In this part of the country, the Patin family boasts five brothers who became jockeys. They are a generation older than the Meches, and three of them once rode a Jefferson Downs meet together in the 1990's and cracked the top 10 in the standings.

The Meches have positioned themselves high in the Louisiana Downs standings against some odds. Lonnie and Donnie, 31, are both rebuilding their careers following lengthy suspensions, and Cody, 16, is still an apprentice. He began riding last October.

Their success, however, is not a big surprise to horsemen. Lonnie and Donnie both have Grade 1 wins on their resume, with Lonnie compiling a career record of 1,594 wins and mount earnings of $32 million. Donnie has won 1,300 races and $29 million, and Cody has won 74 races and was the leading apprentice at last winter's Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs.

"They've all got talent, and I think they're versatile riders, and that is a part of their success," said Morris Nicks, the third-leading trainer at Louisiana Downs. "They're all very, very easy to get along with."

Nicks has won 24 races at the meet, and said either Lonnie, Donnie, or Cody has been aboard all of his winners but one. That kind of support is not lost on the Meches.

"The trainers are great," said Donnie. "They're giving us all shots in the barn. They're riding all of us."

"I'm glad trainers have put me on some good horses," said Cody. "I've had a really easy start."

The brothers are close but competitive, a relationship that spurs them on in the standings. Lonnie, who leads all riders in mount earnings at Louisiana Downs with $1,060,785, serves as a lively target for Donnie and Cody.

"We're all doing good, [but] I'm glad I'm doing the better of all of the three," Lonnie said, laughing. "Really, it's just a matter of who gets the best horses between the three of us, because we all three can get the job done if we got the horse."

"Lonnie, I think he'll get leading rider because of the stock he's riding, and how many he's riding, and as good as he's riding now," said Donnie. "I don't think I can beat him in the standings. Hopefully, by the end of the meet we'll be one-two-three. Hopefully, I can finish second, in front of Cody."

"I didn't think I'd do this good when I first started," said Cody. "I'm trying to beat all of them."

"Cody, he's doing good for just starting," said Donnie. "Lonnie and I were telling him when we had the bug we didn't do that good with the bug. But he's doing good. We're not letting it go to his head, though.

"We give Cody a hard time, me and Lonnie, because we've got to try and keep him in line, not do what we did," said Donnie. "We messed up. We got another chance here. We've got to try to make the best of it."

The Louisiana Downs meet is the first meet at which all three brothers have ridden together. When Cody began riding, Donnie was serving a seven-month suspension for refusing to submit to a drug test, which followed a one-year suspension for not persevering with a mount. He has maintained the horse was injured at the start of the race. Donnie returned to riding at the end of December. Just before Donnie came back, Lonnie began serving a six-month suspension for an amphetamines positive. He returned to action in May.

The Meches hope this will be a meet to build on, and from here, all plan to ride at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

"We all have our share of business, and it's going to keep getting better and better," said Donnie. "We just got to keep working hard at it."

"I didn't want to see any of us not do good, especially at the same meet," said Lonnie. "This is what we all dreamed. We're living a dream."