Tong Po unleashed a searing rally turning for home and went on to a stunning victory in the $175,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico Race Course yesterday.
The colt was making just his third career start, but he won Maryland's only major Triple Crown prep by an emphatic eight lengths as the longest shot (31-1) in a field of six.
"I always said this was a good colt," his trainer, 58-year-old Leon Blusiewicz, said afterward.
The rest of the Tesio field finished in near-inverse order of favoritism: Haymaker, the 2-5 favorite, finished last, and King Mutesa, the 5-2 second choice, finished fourth.
The victory continued a remarkable streak of good fortune for owners Lorraine and Bob Quinichett (pronounced Keh-NEE-chee) of Silver Spring, who have raced and sold such stars as Singing Susan, Willa On the Move and Citidancer for huge sums. Their success has been gleaned from a relatively small owner-breeder operation.
Tong Po is by Private Account out of the mare Raclette. Raclette also produced Willamae, who produced Willa On the Move and Citidancer. Raclette and Willamae are two of just three broodmares owned by the Quinichetts.
Tong Po was a "bad guy" in a kick-boxing movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. "He was a vicious opponent," said Lorraine Quinichett. "Bob liked the name. I called the [Thailand] embassy, and they said the literal translation is 'Golden Tree.' Maybe he'll start a golden tree as a stallion."
The colt's immediate future lies in racing, not breeding, although Blusiewicz seemed to rule out the Kentucky Derby as a possibility. "He'll go in the Wood Memorial [April 20], then the Preakness [May 18]," he announced. "I've always dreamed of winning the Preakness."
The Tesio has produced one Preakness winner (Deputed Testamony, 1983) and other legitimate Triple Crown candidates, although the emergence of Tong Po yesterday seems to eliminate two other prospects -- Haymaker and King Mutesa. Tong Po was among the original 369 Triple Crown nominees -- a clue to the esteem in which his owners held him -- and will not have to be supplemented for a higher fee.
Tong Po, ridden by Wayne Barnett, ran in two maiden races, winning by a neck in his last attempt. Barnett, who won the Tesio for the second time, said: "I liked the way he'd been training into the race. We'd been teaching him to run the last three-eighths of a mile."
And that's what happened in the final stages of the 1 1/16-mile race. Haymaker was battling with Fire In Ice, with King Mutesa threatening from the outside. Then, Barnett moved Tong Po to the leaders, and in a matter of seconds, the colt had delivered a haymaker worthy of the movie's Tong Po.
He Is Risen, an 11-1 shot, closed mildly to be second, two lengths ahead of A Call To Rise.
Tong Po paid $64 to win and topped a $473.80 exacta. He ran the distance in 1 minute, 44 1/5 seconds on a fast track; the time was 3 2/5 seconds off the track record (1:40 4/5).
"This really surprised us," said Lorraine Quinichett. "But he's well-bred, and he wants to go a distance. It looks like we've got a good one."
NOTES: Barnett won the 1985 Tesio with Sparrowvon. . . . About an hour after the Tesio, trainer Carlos Garcia said Haymaker had "displaced," a common term for a displaced palate, a minor ailment that impairs breathing. "He just gave up," said his rider, Marco Castaneda. . . . Private Account sired the 1988 Tesio winner, Private Terms. . . . In a secondary feature, Flaming Emperor ran the fastest six furlongs of the meeting when winning a $31,000 allowance race by five lengths. Flaming Emperor, winning for the first time in six starts since returning from a layoff, went the distance in 1:10 and increased his career earnings to $405,143. . . . Edgar Prado won three races on the 12-race Pimlico program, and Jo Jo Ladner, Mario Pino and Tim Peterson registered riding doubles. . . . Cahill Road, a full brother to Unbridled, won a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park yesterday by eight lengths, raising his career mark to 3-for-4. The 3-year-old colt, who ran the second-fastest time (1:42 3/5) for the distance at the meeting, is trained by Scotty Schulhofer, trainer of Fly So Free.
Year by year
Winners of the Federico Tesio Stakes:
1991 Tong Po
89 Rock Point
1988 Private Terms
1987 Rolls Aly
1986 Broad Brush
1983 Deputed Testamony
1982 Hush Hush Hush
81 Boston Tea