Joe resolute in Tesio triumph

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With a sixteenth of a mile to go in Saturday’s $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, it was clear who the winning trainer would be. We even knew it would be a Presidential exacta.

What we didn’t know yet was which horse would get the money.

When the dust had settled, a very game Joe, named for President Joe Biden, valiantly held off stablemate Mr Jefferson (by Constitution) by a head to earn the second stakes win of his career. It was five lengths back to show horse Shake Em Loose.

“Joe just laid it all out there,” said winning (and second place-finishing) trainer Mike Trombetta. “He really dug in and fought. Give him a lot of credit.”

Of course, the question on everybody’s mind was the next step: would Joe move on to the Preakness? Owner Stuart Grant, who races as The Elkstone Group, had said in February that he was seeking a path to the Middle Jewel for Joe; and the Tesio serves as a “win and in” for that contest.

But Joe has not been nominated to the Triple Crown series. A Preakness start now would cost his owner $150,000.

“Stuart’s a very seasoned owner, and I’ll have to see what his thoughts are on this whole deal and whether he wants to take a run at it,” Trombetta said. “We’ll have to see how the horse comes back out of it, obviously. But you know, if everything’s well, we’ll have to ask him if he wants to take a roll.” 

And the trainer’s thoughts?

“I mean, I would love to. You know, it’s always exciting,” he said.

In the Tesio, Joe was prominent throughout under jockey Victor Carrasco, pressing the moderate early pace of Vine Jet, 49.63 for the opening half-mile and 1:14.58 for three quarters. Joe had put his head in front by that point. 

Joe surged clear in the lane and for a moment looked homefree. But then Mr Jefferson, with Jaime Rodriguez in the irons, mounted his rally and looked for a time as if he would go on by.

“When I felt someone coming up on my outside I changed my stick to the left hand at the sixteenth pole and I felt like he found another gear,” winning pilot Carrasco said. “[Mr Jefferson] did put like a head in front of me. I don’t like to go left-handed too much because he likes to drift a little bit, but I had to do it and once I did, he moved on and got it done.”

Off as the 7-5 favorite, Joe returned $4.80 to win. The one-dollar exacta, with 15-1 Mr Jefferson underneath, returned $30.10. Running time for the nine furlongs was 1:52.30 over a fast main track.

Unlike some of his rivals, Joe hasn’t had the busiest campaign. A Declaration of War colt, he made just his third start of the season and sixth overall in the Tesio. That’s by design.

“I told Stuart if you want to make a run at anything serious in the three year old division, you’ve got to pick one [race] to sit out,” Trombetta said.

So they sat out the mid-February one-mile Miracle Wood, waiting from a January allowance until the Private Terms March 19. Joe ran willingly to be second that day, nearly two lengths behind winner Shake Em Loose.

The gap between races, Trombetta said, may have left his runner “a little vulnerable” in the Private Terms. But with that race under his belt, he was stronger in today’s contest.

“I was waiting for him to move forward a notch,” Trombetta said. “Today he may have.”

It was also a meaningful step forward for Mr Jefferson. He had run into trouble in three starts in New York, knocking heads with promising runners like Zandon, Mo Donegal, Un Ojo and others while well beaten on the New York road to the Triple Crown.

“I always wanted to give him a chance to be a good horse,” Trombetta said of the runner-up, who is owned by breeder R. Larry Johnson. “I honestly feel like some of the New York stuff just didn’t work out.”

The show horse, Shake Em Loose, had garnered much of the pre-race attention. Owner-trainer Rodolfo Sanchez-Salomon had claimed him in November for $16,000 and then guided him to two stakes wins, including a solid score over Joe in the Private Terms. 

That win prompted Sanchez-Salomon to put up the $6,000 necessary for the last regular nomination to make the Shakin It Up gelding Triple Crown-eligible. In today’s contest, he didn’t have the cleanest of trips but stayed on for third.

Sanchez-Salomon was pleased with his horse’s effort – but noncommittal about the Preakness.

“I was happy with him. I thought he raced well,” the trainer said. “He was hardly blowing when he came back. I think he just got a little stuck down on the inside on the far turn. I thought he tried his best the whole race. I’m not sure [about the Preakness]. That’s a big decision. I will like to see how he does the next couple of days. I’m happy with him. He didn’t have the best trip, but he ran okay.”

In the winner’s circle, meanwhile, Trombetta recounted Grant’s approach to Joe’s campaign to date.

“I think he’s been very grounded through the whole process. You know, we never had any conversations about the Fair Grounds or Oaklawn or New York or anything,” the trainer said. “He said, ‘Let’s bring him through Maryland and see where he takes us.’ I think he wanted to let the horse do the talking for him.”

NOTES While the day’s featured stakes went to Laurel-based runners — Luna Belle in the Weber City Miss and Joe in the Resio — two supporting stakes went to out-of-towners, and both were ridden by Jevian Toledo. In the $100,000 Frank Y. Whiteley, a seven-furlong test for three-year-olds and up, the lightly raced Disco Pharoah cruised to a three-length win for his second victory from four career starts for trainer Ray Handal… In the $100,000 Heavenly Cause for fillies and mares going a mile, Pennybaker, a French import who entered riding a four-race win streak after switching from turf to synthetic, made her dirt debut a winning one, rolling to win by nearly seven lengths. She’s trained by Michael Stidham for Godolphin…