When, as I was compiling what my transcriber described as an "epic" last week (all five pages of it), I left out the name of Federico Tesio, among my list of the "World's Most Admired" horsemen of all time, for the specific purpose of eliciting your responses, howls of which followed as quickly as lightning does thunder. While this man, who from his remote base on the shores of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, gave the world the supreme stallions Nearco, Ribot and Donatello II, would undoubtedly have topped any poll conducted in the second half of the twentieth century, their isolation in the Land of the Rising Sun would not have made Japan's Yoshida family as obvious an omission to the world at large, despite the revolution they've wrought on Japanese breeding with the advent of Sunday Silence, Deep Impact and the rest of their ubiquitous tribe. Events at Hong Kong's International meeting on Sunday reminded us once again just what a force the "Japs' have become in racing's global landscape. In perpetuation of events at Dubai's World Cup, two of the four Group Ones on the card fell to Japanese runners, including the Longines Hong Kong Cup itself, where A Shin Hikari (a son of Deep Impact) led home a Japanese exacta from his compatriot Nuovo Record, while Maurice was only the second horse following South African Variety Club's demolition last year, to break the fifteen year stranglehold of the local standard bearers in the Mile Championship.
Much has been devoted to the legacy of the Yoshidas in the elevation of Japan as a world racing power, and while countless books have been written by theorists, admirers and even phony mathematicians about the methods of Signor Tesio, it's a long while since his name was recalled either here or in the international media for that matter. As I wrote last week, my late Dad, Bryan (BPG) made use of his deferred demobilization after the Second World War, to visit some of the leading stud farms in Europe in the first few months of 1946.
For a man who was soon to pursue a brief career in the rather sombre profession of accountancy, tipping for a broadsheet was an unlikely avenue on which to base a living, but that's what he did while biding his time waiting for the Union Castle Line's big ship to take him home. He soon found out that one of the penalties of tipping is that, whereas a travel writer's ill-chosen selections are seldom exposed, a doctor's incorrect diagnosis undiscovered, or a bureaucrat's mis-calculation undetected, a horse race selector is immediately open to direct judgment. If "selector" sounds like a pretentious euphemism for "tipster", he used it in an attempt to bring some distinction to the profession he had temporarily embraced. In the process, he quickly developed a habit of investing a pound or two on what he considered to be the main danger to his broadsheet selection, hoping thereby to "stop" the threat, or achieve small consolation if he failed to do so; which otherwise interpreted, might seem an over-extravagant attempt at winning both the glory and the cash. Nonetheless, a well-placed each way splash on a horse aptly named "Vagabond" at least underwrote his drive to Italy, which included such gastro-highlights as Chez Point in Vienne and Mere Brazier at Lyon en route to Tesio's lovely lakeside stud.
He'd written to the great man before leaving England, asking if it would be possible to meet him at Dormello, the stud he'd founded in 1898. When he reached the Grand Hotel at Menaggio on Lake Como, there was a letter saying that he would be delighted, and if he liked, he could go to Milan and see the racing stables as well. I still have the letter which concluded with "If you come by train, get out at the station of Arona and a car will meet you. If you come by car, it is before Arona, but at less than two miles". BPG wasted hours through an inherited trait (from his father, Pat Goss snr) in being over-punctual, and locating the house well in advance of schedule, drove to the nearest café.
The patron was an authority on the man who'd made the most significant impact on worldwide bloodstock and breeding in the 20th century. He confirmed a story BPG had been whispered before, but for which he could still not vouch; namely, that the clairvoyant who had bought the unprepossessing Catnip, granddam of the great Nearco (who gave us the Northern Dancer lineage, still as potent as ever through the dynasties of Sadler's Wells and Galileo) for 75 guineas at the Newmarket December Sales in 1915, developed his empathy with horses through sheer chance. While a serving cavalry officer, he responded to a dare by vaulting to the hotel balcony of a lady's bedroom. The situation developed elements of farce which, in the contemporary moral climate, led to his dishonour and resignation from his regiment. Federico Tesio took off for South America, and it was here, riding through regions populated by wild horses, that his appreciation and understanding of the race developed and crystalized into an obsession. By the year he died, 1954, he had won 21 Italian Derbys. Such is the thin red line which determines the course of life: how different would the modern world of the thoroughbred be today, if it weren't for this mischievous prank conceived over too many bottles of sangiovese on a sultry Sunday in Sienna?
I did say last week that I had no intention of revisiting the individual histories of racing's "most admired" for all that had been written about them, but that I would introduce wherever it was known to me, a slightly novel angle, this being one of them. Were it not for a chance meeting with the patron, I doubt this piece de resistance would ever have seen the light of this day.
My dad was so intrigued by the stud he didn't dare ask Tesio about those "early days", and in particular the patron's version of events. But there was no hesitation when it was suggested moving onto Milan to see the horses in training. One, Tenerani, whose half-sister Trevisana was a useful two year old that year, he anticipated sending to England for a race or two the following season. He won both, the first, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot (beating Black Tarquin) and the two mile five furlongs Goodwood Cup, in which the subject of our previous story, Marcel Boussac's poor Arbar, broke down. Tenerani, whose dam Tofanello, Tesio had bought as a yearling at Doncaster for 140 guineas, was of course, to become the sire of the international horse of his era, Ribot, who was unbeaten in sixteen visits to the races.
In the Arc de Triomphe, Ribot literally pulled his jockey Enrico Camici, out of the saddle in a start-to-finish demolition of the best racehorses on earth at the time, and then proceeded to pulverize the best Britain and Ireland had to offer in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, where he was followed home at a distance of six lengths by The Queen's son of Hyperion, High Veldt, who would make a name for himself as the Champion Sire of South Africa, including twice Horse Of The Year, Elevation. At this time, asked by my dad which was the best he'd ever trained, Signor Tesio was in no doubt that Nearco ("a horse of the greatest class") and unbeaten in fourteen races, surpassed all others. Both Nearco and Ribot astonishingly won over distances from five to fifteen furlongs. Sadly, Signor Tesio did not live to see Ribot run, so we will never know how he would've assessed them in relation to one another.
His charming wife Donna Lydia Tesio, was disinclined to make comparisons. With her unfailing courtesy, she showed BPG the yearlings at Dormello, and they maintained a contact over the years, including an exchange of letters following the traumatic preliminaries to Botticelli's bid for glory in England. A big, strong horse by Blue Peter, he had two dislikes, travel and mud. So when the poor lad was injured exiting a plane flying him to Ascot for the 1954 "King George", for which the going was conservatively styled "dead", it seemed prudent not to fancy him. Under the circumstances he performed respectably behind The Queen's splendid Aureole, whose maternal grandsire was the Tesio winner of eight of his nine races, Donatello II, sire incidentally of the unbeaten Guineas and Derby winner Crepello, he in turn progenitor of George Rowles' excellent stallion Caerdeon, who resided down the valley from us.
For his next attempt, Botticelli was dispatched by rail, only for a landslide to halt his progress outside Milan. His target was to be the Ascot Gold Cup, which was also delayed owing to a rail strike at the Royal Meeting. The Italian rail-link having been re-established, the horse with an understandable antipathy to displacement, was packed off again, with his personal supply of Italian spring water, on a journey which included both an unscheduled and unenjoyable ten hour halt in a Paris railway siding, which lasted in the end for three days. If he wasn't feeling like running two-and-a-half miles in the deferred (by a week) Gold Cup, you couldn't blame him. But the surface was firm, the opposition unspectacular, and under these circumstances he was backed to 9-4 second favourite behind the Boussac-owned Elpenor, whom he destroyed in a home straight blitz of a few hundred yards.
Remaining on the Italian theme for the moment, readers may remember an insert in our annual sires' brochure on the origins of the famed filly Signorinetta. When the "Aussie" Rae Johnstone piloted home Galcador for Marcel Boussac in the English Derby, he became the first to achieve the Oaks/Derby double at Epsom since William Bullock did so aboard the filly forty two years before. Hot fancy for the 1950 Derby was a French compatriot, L'Amiral, whose "practice laps" against the distinguished performer, Amour Drake, had elicited unprecedented anticipation.
For sheer quality, there was no comparison between the symmetry of Galcador and the indifferently assembled former Grand Prix de Paris hero Admiral Drake's son, L'Amiral, but it had to be conceded that the latter moved with elastic precision and was in excellent spirits.
When Amour Drake smashed his opponents in the Derby "prelim", the (now Gr.1) Coronation Cup, it was thought L'Amiral was simply "tickets and tax". Invariably in that era, a no-hoper would confer fleeting distinction on a proud proprietor by briefly heading the Derby field at an unsustainable gallop, much as we see novices doing in the Comrades Marathon every year. But a quarter mile out the favourite was 4 lengths clear, yet in three strides, L' Amiral went from going well to going nowhere. Galcador wasn't one to hang around when the front line gave way, and the rest was one for posterity. Including Rae Johnstone's memorable double.
The only hope in the aftermath, was that his jockey might fare a little more charitably than his Oaks/Derby predecessor, who was reputed to have received a present of a glass of wine and a cigar from Chevalier Ginistrelli after achieving the historic twosome on the owner-trainer's remarkable Signorinetta in 1908. In the outcome, the romantic Neapolitan became the first Italian to own a winner of the world's greatest horserace of the time. Our eccentric had saddled Signorinetta to win the two Classics on consecutive days, a filly he'd bred from the vocally ardent but untalented stallion next door, relying not on the form book, but on the boundless laws of sympathy and love.