What’s in a (Race) Name? Federico Tesio, the Legendary Breeder

A highlight of Laurel Park’s winter-spring meet is the Federico Tesio Stakes for 3-year-olds, named in honor of the famous Italian breeder. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Thoroughbred owner, breeder, and trainer Federico Tesio would be a legend even if he had been content to rest on his laurels in 1939, the year after his colt Nearco achieved lasting fame as an undefeated champion. But Tesio – considered to be one of the greatest and most influential breeders in the history of the sport – was far from finished. In fact, late in his life, Tesio would breed a champion even greater than Nearco!

Born in Italy, Tesio dominated racing in his home country like no one before or since. Based at Dormello Stud, a massive farm with a private training track, Tesio bred a staggering 22 winners of the Derby Italiano (the Italian equivalent of the Kentucky Derby) from 1911 through 1957, training 21 of them while owning all or part of 20. These included Nearco, who won all fourteen of his races and proved his talent outside of Italy by winning the prestigious Grand Prix de Paris in France. As a stallion, Nearco would rise to even greater heights as the foundation of a sire line that includes Northern Dancer and Bold Ruler, two stallions that have had an immeasurable impact on the modern Thoroughbred breed.

But the best racehorse Tesio ever bred was almost certainly Ribot. Born in 1952, the colt was deemed too small to be an accomplished racehorse and wasn’t even nominated to the great classic races in Europe, but, as told in the book Sire Lines by Abram S. Hewitt, Tesio had second thoughts about Ribot while watching the colt train, reportedly saying “I don’t know; I don’t know; there is something about him.”

Tesio passed away in 1954, shortly before Ribot’s debut, but the small colt would do his breeder proud by winning all sixteen of his races, including two editions of the historic Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, considered to be the most prestigious race in Europe. Even today, Ribot is held up as one of the greatest racehorses ever produced in Europe.

During his lengthy involvement in racing, Tesio also found the time to author books on the subject of breeding racehorses, including the aptly-named Breeding the Racehorse, which has been translated into English and is still available today.

Thanks to his long-lasting influence and renown, several races around the world have been named in honor of Tesio. One of them is the $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park, a Preakness Stakes prep that will be run on April 22. Let’s take a look at the history behind the names of other upcoming races…

Dahlia Stakes at Laurel Park

Although bred in Kentucky, Dahlia achieved her most lasting fame in Europe, where she was among the greatest racemares ever seen. Campaigned by her breeder, the Texas oilman Nelson Bunker Hunt, Dahlia won the Group 1 Irish Oaks as a 3-year-old in 1973 and subsequently competed against males on many occasions, counting two straight renewals of the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes among her biggest triumphs.

Dahlia also made annual forays to the United States, where she won the Grade 1 Washington D.C. International at Laurel Park in 1973 and the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes in 1974. She eventually came to the United States to stay and added the Grade 1 Hollywood Invitational Handicap to her record before retiring to Hunt’s Kentucky farm at the end of 1976.

Russell Road Stakes at Charles Town

Not many horses have the talent and durability to be competitive in stakes races for nine straight years, but no one told that to Russell Road! From the time of his win in the 2008 Dr. Ernest Benner Stakes to his final runner-up effort in the 2016 Northern Panhandle Stakes, Russell Road was a West Virginia-bred sensation, winning exactly half of his 62 races, including three editions of the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic Stakes. He retired with just over $2 million in earnings, making him the second-richest West Virginia-bred in racing history.

Memories of Silver Stakes at Aqueduct

Some mares are talented racehorses; others are very successful broodmares. Once in a while, a mare will achieve lasting fame as both, with Memories of Silver being a prominent example. Trained by James Toner, Memories of Silver won six graded stakes races during her racing career, including the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes in 1997. Eleven years later, she foaled a gray filly named Winter Memories, who topped the accomplishments of her dam by winning seven graded stakes races and placing second in the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Mizdirection Stakes at Santa Anita Park

Few horses have ever shown a greater fondness for Santa Anita Park’s downhill turf course than Mizdirection. The daughter of Mizzen Mast, co-owned by Jim Rome's Jungle Racing, absolutely relished the unique 6 ½-furlong sprint course at the Arcadia, Calif., track, eventually retiring with a perfect 6-for-6 record over it. In what proved to be fortuitous timing, Mizdirection was at her peak in 2012 and 2013, two years when Santa Anita hosted the Breeders’ Cup. With the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint being held on her favorite surface, Mizdirection naturally won both renewals, unleashing thrilling late rallies to win narrowly each time.

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