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He used the story of the only Italian winner of the English Derby to prove this point. Cavalier Ginestrelli, a Neapolitan, went to England with his string of horses in the '80s to beat the English at their own sport. He bred a very successful mare, Signorina, who was eventually put to stud. In 1902 she was to be bred to Isinglass, one of the great stallions of the day. Cavalier Ginestrelli had advanced 300 guineas for the performance. While Signorina was being walked to her appointment one morning, she passed older and less famous stallions, out for their morning constitutionals. One, the undistinguished Chaleureux, saw her and stopped short. Signorina halted, looking at him with liquid eyes, and refused to budge. It was love at first sight. Ginestrelli then decided to forfeit Isinglass's 300 guineas and gave the mare to the stallion she loved. The result was a mare, Signorinetta, who won the Oaks and the Derby in 1908.
Tesio's admirers say he could feel like a horse if he tried. Once, many years ago, he sold a vigorous young stallion to the Italian army. When he wouldn't perform, Tesio was disturbed. Then he suggested an experiment. Instead of the well-groomed, young and fashionable mares they had previously shown the stallion, they were to offer him an elderly, comfortable mare. This was tried and all difficulties vanished. Tesio explained that the stallion probably had been chastised when he tried to flirt with some beautiful mare on the training track. He then associated desirable female flesh with punishment. Only a disreputable old crone could put his inhibitions to rest.
Tesio was born in 1869 of moderately prosperous bourgeois stock in Turin. When he lost both parents, he was put in a boarding school. There a noted astronomer, Father Francesco Denza, took a liking to the boy's eagerness to learn and reason. From him Tesio acquired a love for science and of unorthodox theories. Tesio went abroad after coming of age and into possession of his own money. He eventually traveled to Great Britain, India, China, Japan, Argentina and the United States—wherever he could—racing as a gentleman jockey and playing polo. Returning to Italy determined to dedicate his life to horses, he had the great good fortune to meet Donna Lydia Flori di Serramezzana, an energetic young lady who loved and knew almost as much about horses as he did. The descendant of a Dalmation ship-owning family, she also had means of her own. The two fell in love, were married in 1898 and bought a small estate at Dormello, on Lake Maggiore, where Tesio had decided the grass was tender and the ground dry enough to breed winners. Donna Lydia, a thin, tall, erect dowager with a regal mien, has survived her husband and, in fact, was a witness at Ribot's last race in Paris.
Originally it was not easy to break into the aristocratic, horse-racing circles of 19th century Italy. The stakes were small and only royal highnesses, princes, dukes and counts with their vast means and grand manners could afford to compete for them. The nobles built up large stables, stocked them liberally every year with imported mares, jockeys and trainers from England or France, and then contented themselves with one or two winners.
The Tesios' beginnings were, as a consequence, inconspicuous. Their first horses raced obscurely in 1903. Their name first appeared among the winning stables in 1908. By 1911 they had their first Italian Derby winner, Guido Reni. There have been 20 more since. Tesio soon became tacitly recognized as the leader of Italian breeders, trainers and stable owners, not only because of his victories in Italy, France and later in England, but especially for the high quality of his horses, which were often snapped up by foreign buyers for their studs, at prices nobody had ever imagined possible in Italy. (Among them were Nearco and Tenerani, now in Great Britain, and Daumier in the United States.)
What the connoisseurs envied and admired in Tesio was his mysterious capacity to choose improbable mates and invent successful blood mixtures. Among his historic stallions were Michelangelo, Scopas, Apelle, Cavaliere d'Arpino, Toulouse-Lautrec and Botticelli, who all sired excellent sons. It is significant that Tesio, an amateur painter of the Winston Churchill genre, named his best horses after the greatest painters and sculptors. It proves that Tesio foresaw, with a certain degree of accuracy, how good a future product of his blood alchemy was going to be. It proves, too, that Tesio erred somewhat in his estimate of Ribot. Theodule Augustin Ribot was a lesser 19th century etcher and painter.
Middle-aged Italians now remember Tesio only as an old man with blue eyes behind steel-rimmed glasses, always carrying an umbrella even on fine days, as an insurance, because his horses never were much good on wet and muddy tracks. He walked alone, sometimes muttering to himself, from his stables to the San Siro track in Milan, always through the same streets, taking the same corners in the same way, afraid that any variation might endanger the luck of the day. He would change his itinerary only if a cat crossed his path.
Watching his horses run, he sat alone, in the same chair, in the same place, year after year. In spite of his English clothes—the top hat and the morning coat of big days, the tweeds of ordinary days, and the rolled umbrella—he looked less like the aristocrat, the man of leisure, the typical Jockey Club member, than a master craftsman, a great silversmith, watchmaker or boatbuilder. He was courteous and amiable when approached, but few dared break the invisible wall which surrounded him. He lived either in Dormello or in his little room at the Milan stables, getting up with the grooms, watching the early-morning canters, visiting each horse in turn after the workout. The last day of his life (he had been living in a clinic, under observation, for a week) he went as usual to his stables, debated the day's schedules with his trainer and died in the afternoon of a stomach hemorrhage.
Always Tesio worked within limitations imposed by a tight budget. Indeed, he often turned them to advantages. He could not acquire many foals each year, so he concentrated on getting what he thought was the best for his money, trying to make as few mistakes as possible. His was the poor man's prudence. Each match was debated with Donna Lydia months or years ahead, each opinion very carefully weighed. "Never take anybody's advice," he used to say, "the man probably won a bet on that particular horse and is grateful to him."
These are, in short, the Tesio rules. They sound obvious. He always chose the best stallions for his best mares. He kept the good colts and sold all others. He raised them as well as he knew how and trained them extremely hard. He wanted no weaklings. He considered races mainly as tests for his breeding experiments. All horse people, breeders, trainers and owners, of course, think they do all these things. But Tesio was his own master (Mario Incisa, whom he did not acquire as a partner until 1930, was an admirer and a friend who never interfered).