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Nine Look for Preakness Berth in Federico Tesio

Federico Tesio
A field of nine go in the Federico Tesio at Laurel Park. (Photo: Maryland Jockey Club).

Stablemates Prince of Jericho and Circling the Drain and multiple stakes winners Coffeewithchris and Ninetyprcentmaddie will each vie for a Triple Crown berth in a competitive edition of the $125,000 Federico Tesio Saturday at Laurel Park.

The 42nd running of the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio headlines an 11-race program featuring four stakes worth $450,000 in purses on the first of back-to-back Spring Stakes Spectacular Saturdays. Spring Stakes Spectacular continues April 22 with five $100,000 stakes including the first three of the season scheduled for Laurel’s world-class turf course.

Named for the noted Italian breeder, owner and trainer whose homebreds Nearco and Ribot dominate Thoroughbred bloodlines around the world, the Tesio for an eighth straight year serves as a ‘Win and In’ qualifier for Triple Crown-nominated 3-year-olds to the 148th Preakness Stakes May 20 at historic Pimlico Race Course.

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A total of 22 Tesio winners have gone on to run in the Preakness Stakes, the last being Alwaysmining in 2019 with Maryland-bred Deputed Testamony (1983) the only horse to sweep both races. Last year’s winner, Joe, was named Maryland’s male division champion for a second straight year and is nearing his return to the races.

Happy Saver won the Tesio in 2020 for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher as a prelude to his next-out victory over older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Runners-up Ruler On Ice (2011) and Monday Morning Qb (2020) respectively went on to capture the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Maryland Million Classic.

Both Prince of Jericho and Circling the Drain are nominated to the Triple Crown for Laurel-based trainer Brittany Russell, who earned her first career Grade 1 triumph with Doppelganger in the April 8 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct.

Private Terms Replay

Michael Dubb and Morris Bailey’s Prince of Jericho sandwiched a season-opening win in the Jan. 21 Spectacular Bid at Laurel between seconds to Coffeewithchris in the 2022 Heft and Feb. 18 Miracle Wood. Russell opted to skip the 1 1/16-mile Private Terms March 18 to point for the Tesio, which will mark Prince of Jericho’s two-turn debut.

“He’s trained really well. The time between I think has been really good for him,” Russell said. “I think this is a horse where the mile and an eighth is a question mark, but mentally he’s really good. He’s done what we’ve asked him to do. I think he’s a really nice horse. We just have to determine what his distance limitation will be, and this will be the test.”

Prince of Jericho Stretches Out

The one-mile Miracle Wood is the longest race to date for Prince of Jericho, whose three wins from six starts have come at either six or seven furlongs. The son of multiple graded-stakes winning sprinter Munnings will break from outermost Post 9 under Russell’s husband, champion rider Sheldon Russell.

“He can settle and sit off horses which is to his benefit, but also sometimes with horses like that you’re not sure if they’re [just] a good closing one-turn horse. It’s just different going two turns,” Russell said. “He is a smart horse. The way he runs in the afternoon you want to think that’s his style based off how he breezes in the morning. He’s kind of been full of himself. He is touting himself.

“Two works back he worked exceptionally well. That was a really good work for him,” she added. “We came back and tried to do a little less a week before the race and, to be fair, he was really cooperative and did what we needed him to do that day, too. He’s been doing everything we ask each week, so that’s really encouraging.”

Circling the Drain, bred and owned by Sycamore Hill Thoroughbreds, alternated running first and second through his first four starts before making his stakes debut in the Private Terms, where he ran third behind Hayes Strike and Coffeewithchris, beaten 5 ½ lengths. Unlike his stablemate, both the West Coast gelding’s wins have come around two turns at Laurel.

“I think this horse improves each time. I think it’s just a slow progression,” Russell said. “He’s doing what he needs to do each race. He’s a horse that I think will love more ground. He might [eventually] be a turf horse, but at this stage of the game you’re sitting here looking at the options in front of you and the Tesio is just sort of looking at us right now. He’s a really good-training horse. He hasn’t missed a beat. He shows up to work every day. I think he’s a nice horse, he just needs to continue the progression.”

Jevian Toledo has the mount from Post 4.

Salzman Saddles Coffeewithchris

Co-owned by trainer John Salzman Jr., Fred Wasserloos and Anthony Geruso, Coffeewithchris has the most experience of any Tesio horse, having finished worse than third just three times from 11 starts. He has raced at distances from 4 ½ furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, with the Private Terms marking his first time around two turns.

Coffeewithchris was never far from the lead in the Private Terms despite racing wide on both turns and was unable to hold off Hayes Strike, who came back to run seventh in the Blue Grass (G1) April 8 at Keeneland. The Ride On Curlin gelding, made a late Triple Crown nominee for $6,000 by the late March 28 deadline, was 3 ¾ lengths ahead of Circling the Drain.

“I didn’t like the outside post last time and I feel like if I was inside of that horse I don’t think that horse beats me,” Salzman said. “I was five wide around the first turn and three wide all the way around the second turn, and he still ran his eyeballs out. He got to the lead at the head of the lane and that other horse just had the perfect trip, sat in behind him and run by. But even when he got by me my horse didn’t give up, so he acts like he will go on. He just keeps going.

“My horse came out of the race good and he’s doing fine,” he added. “He didn’t give up. That horse got by him and he just dug in. He didn’t just fold up where you could say, he can’t go any further. Every time I run him he keeps going, so we’ll give him another chance and if he shows me he can go there then I may head to the Preakness.”

Laurel winter meet-leading rider Jaime Rodriguez gets the return call from the rail.

LC Racing’s Ninetyprcentmaddie, based at Parx with trainer Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid Jr., is entered to make his Laurel debut in the Tesio. The bay son of Weigelia owns four wins and a second from seven starts, and exits a front-running 9 ¾-length triumph in the one-mile, 70-yard City of Brotherly Love over his home track.

“It was a big effort. We’re kind of learning about him as we go,” Reid said. “He got trapped on the inside the start before and he didn’t like that so well, and when he got to the outside he really took off. The other day he just got a clear lead and he needed things his own way a little bit that day, but he proved that he could do so we were extremely happy with that effort.”

Ninetyprcentmaddie’s lone poor effort came two starts back Feb. 11 at Aqueduct in the Withers (G3), his two-turn and graded-stakes debut, where he ran last of seven to Hit Show, bound for the Kentucky Derby (G1) off his runner-up finish in the April 8 Wood Memorial (G2). Another late nominee to the Triple Crown, he will have Paco Lopez aboard from Post 5.

“When we raced him at Aqueduct in the Withers, getting off the van he didn’t travel good and when he got there he was kind of sulking. We’re going to go ahead and get him set up for a couple days [at Laurel] so he’s nice and relaxed coming into the race,” Reid said. “He proved last time that he didn’t take that race to heart. So, whatever happened that day at Aqueduct, hopefully it was just a one-day anomaly and he’ll go right on about his business.”

Fletcher Makes Stakes Debut

James Chandley’s Triple Crown-nominated homebred Fletcher is set to make his stakes debut in the Tesio for Fair Hill Training Center-based Chuck Lawrence. The Blofeld colt has won once in four starts, graduating in an off-the-turf maiden special weight last fall at Laurel. In his sophomore debut March 22 at Parx, he set the pace before losing the lead at the top of the stretch but battled on to be second in a one-mile, 70-yard allowance.

Also facing stakes competition for the first time are a pair of shippers exiting maiden victories in Florida. Waterford Stable’s homebred Summer Cause, trained by Christophe Clement, broke through in his fourth try and second this year, a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight Feb. 26 at Gulfstream Park where he rated off horses before coming with a wide late run to get up by half a length. He is by millionaire Summer Front, who Clement trained to four graded-stakes wins on the turf.

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey entered Woodford Racing, Lanes End Farm, Phipps Stable, Ken Langone and Edward Hudson Jr.’s Perform, who graduated by 2 ¾ lengths going a mile and 40 yards March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs in his sixth start and second this year. His sire, Good Magic, earned a divisional championship following his win in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and ran second in the Kentucky Derby (G1), fourth in the Preakness and won the Haskell (G1) at 3.

Completing the field are stablemates Eldest Son and Time to Cruise, trained by Laurel’s winter meet leader Jamie Ness. Morris Kernan and Jagger Inc.’s Eldest Son exits a neck victory in a one-mile optional claiming allowance March 11 at Laurel in the first start for his new connections, while Kernan, Yo Berbs and Jagger’s Time to Cruise owns a win going the Tesio distance Feb. 11 at Laurel and comes out of a 2 ½-length allowance triumph March 22 at Parx.