Federico Tesio - In His Own Words
Federico Tesio has been described as "Racing's Greatest All Rounder" amongst other titles not only because of his hands on involvement in breeding, training or alike but also because of his numerous great qualities and attributes that went into his daily life.
He was an observer, a thinker, a scientist, a geneticist, a philosopher and an artist as well.
He was a man of great curiosity and exceptional intellect and also determinedly independent.
Born in Turin in Northern Italy on 17 January 1869, Tesio lived for 85 years, his death occuring on 1 May 1954 in what was appropriately the "Year of the Horse".
Purchasing 19 hectares of land on the banks of Lake Maggiore in 1898, Tesio set up Dormello Stud largely as a thoroughbred nursery.
He selected all the fillies and mares for his farm often travelling to Tattersall's in England to target buy without any lavish budget.
Tesio planned every mating for his mares'. In line with his fierce independence, he employed no agents, no advisors and certainly no managers.
Although standing stallion's was largely to be avoided, he briefly stood some of his "lesser" performed male horses, the more successful ones quickly being snapped up by the larger Commercial European Studs.
The book Tesio - In His Own Words, published in 2005 by The Russell Meerdink Company Ltd, is an English translationof Tesio's 1947 manuscript, The Pure Blood: An Animal of Experimentation.
As a read we found it could get highly technical at times especially in the area of scientific observation and experimentation with some areas inconclusive so we will touch onjust a few areas of interest that we acquired from his works.
It is also important to realise that when Tesio operated it was at a time which coincided with many other notable European breeders the likes of Marcel Boussac, the 17th Earl of Derby and HH Aga Khan III so it was a time of great challenge, not only on the racetrack but also intellectually in the quest for a competitive edge over one's rivals.
Without the financial firepower of many of these influential competitors, Tesio's beginnings had to be both frugal and modest, something that was probably the makings of this great man in the equine world.
The establishment of Dormello Stud near Milan in Northern Italy was from the ground up, an old silkworm farm where vast numbers of mulberry trees had to be removed, all in an environment that has been described as "where the climate was wet but the ground dry".
It was from this modest and challenging beginning that a showpiece was developed and from where Tesio was to breed champion after champion eventually becoming known as the "Wizard of Dormello".
Tesio was not a conformist and paid little attention to the failure of other breeders who were all too ready to condemn a particular stallion and relegate him to obscurity unless he could quickly produce a Classic winner as Tesio turned out International champions by blending the genes of horses often held in low regard by others.
At the same time, Tesio did admire other Class performers and would linebreed to performance and Class whenever he could afford it.
Tesio was a great admirer of the unbeaten St Simon who never won "the Derby" simply because he was not staked for it ( in those times Staking occured as a yearling ) but who in Tesio's opinion "would certainly have won it with little effort". Tesio judged St Simon as a "winner".
Nearco was linebred 4x4 to St Simon and became known as "The Italian Stallion".
Like St Simon ( undefeated in all 9 race starts ) Tesio was to go on and breed his own cluster of unbeaten champions such as Ribot ( 16 wins ), Nearco ( 14 wins ), Braque ( 12 wins ) and Cavaliere D'Arpino ( 5 wins ).
Niccolo Dell'Arca ( 1941 ) and Botticelli ( 1954 ) both won Italian Triple Crowns made up of the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger.
In Italy alone, Tesio's horses won 22 Derby's, 11 Oaks, 18 St Leger's and 22 Gran Premio di Milano's.
Such a record could easily have been extended as the horse described as "Tesio's Masterpiece" namely Ribot was never entered for any of Italy's classics at the yearling stage as Tesio deemed him "small and insignificant".
Sadly, Tesio died just before Ribot commenced racing so never got to see him emphatically triumph in both the 1955 and 1956 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe's.
The irony of Ribot was that Tesio went to his grave firmly in the belief that Cavaliere D'Arpino was the best horse he bred when history was later to tell us that it was Ribot.
But Tesio was not just an advocate of his preferred linebreeding as may have appeared the case as his breeding exploits marched on.
His very first Derby winner Guido Reni was bred on an established breeding cross of proven genetic affinity, the Isonomy / Hermit cross. Tesio knew standing in Italy at the time was a modestly performed stallion named Melanion, a son of Hermit. Interested in the cross at the time, Tesio ventured to England in 1904 and purchased a grand-daughter of Isonomy. The resultant foal from this mating was a colt to be named Guido Reni.
Through his observations and applications of Mendel's scientific approach to genetics, research and selective experimentation and applying this to horse breeding, Tesio established some of his own findings which included "The Law of Changeable Maxims" and "The Law of Similar but Not Identical".
It was the likes of these that determined whether Tesio should repeat a given mating or not when identified as exceptional.
Perhaps one of Tesio's greatest findings from his observations thoughts, and experimentations was that which he described as "Nervous Energy".
He laid claim that racing success was dependent upon a horse's "nervous energy" defined as "the latent moment" - the time between which the brain gives the signal for the animal to move it's limbs and when it is received by the muscles.
Tesio attributed abundant nervous energy as the source for willpower and determination in superior horses.
He also attributes nervous energy as being a prime reason why champion mares that are heavily raced and as a result are placed under greater stress, rarely produce superior offspring.
Likewise the same can be said for stallions that raced heavily into their 5th or 6th year.
Tesio attributes this phenomenon to the fact that these mares and stallions have consumed their nervous energy and claims that it will take a generation or two before this energy can be recaptured.
Tesio further observed that many of the horses conventionally characterised by great energy and speed are offspring of females that have never raced, raced very little or for only short distances. These females have saved their energy, storing a great accumulation of their nervous energy potential.
With reference to the physical breeding act, Tesio observed nervous energy as being present in natural insemination but sadly lacking in artificial insemination.
Tesio's legacy is indeed immense. That a single ( extraordinary ) man could have bred so many great horses ( from very modest financial resources ) that continue to influence the pedigrees of today's best horses is almost beyond belief.
It has been estimated that the blood of Tesio's horses can be found in the pedigrees of approximately 70% of today's thoroughbred population.
I have often mused to myself that I was born in the same year that Federico Tesio departed this world i.e.1954, also appropriately the "Year of the Horse".
Now if that's not a challenge to take over from where the great man left off, then what is???
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