Delessio rewards Gillet with 4-length Manor win Rider rescued gelding, nurtured him to race

April 13, 1997|By Brant James | Brant James,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Delessio's life has often been as tumultuous as his temperament, but all along Joe Gillet has stuck with him. The trainer and rider had saved the gelding by arranging his purchase when he was bound for the slaughterhouse and had seen him through a series of bizarre mishaps that made him seem cursed.

The 12-year-old repaid his benefactor yesterday, beating the field by four lengths to win the 87th annual My Lady's Manor steeplechase in the rain in Monkton. The event marked the beginning of Maryland's triple crown of timber racing, with the Grand National and Maryland Hunt Cup the next two Saturdays.

Delessio's wild nature had quashed his previous owners' hopes of turning him into a track racer. Bound for destruction, he was saved when a newspaper ad piqued Gillet's interest. Gillet arranged for his parents -- stepfather John D. Schapiro and mother Eleanor -- to purchase Delessio, and was rewarded when the horse showed early promise in timber racing.

But Delessio's bad luck began when he was apparently mistaken for a deer and shot while turned out in field three years ago in Monkton. A serious leg infection ensued, sending him to the veterinarian, and a near traffic mishap en route nearly sent it and Gillet to their demise together.

Delessio recovered enough to win the John Rush Streett steeplechase in 1995, but two more leg injuries wasted nearly another 18 months. Delessio's training was turned over to F. Bruce Miller last year when Gillet moved to California.

Gillet never gave up on Delessio, but he was beginning to have doubts.

"I thought after all this maybe he'd win a point-to-point or two, that's it," he said. "He ran well in a race last fall, but then he missed his next one with another leg problem. At that point, I thought he was finished."

But on this day the wait was rewarded, not only for Gillet, who won last year's Manor on Southwoods, but for his parents.

"Joe never gave up on this horse," Eleanor Schapiro said.

Gillet deemed the victory an 83rd birthday present for his stepfather, whose last My Lady's Manor winner was Bally Guy in 1962.

Delessio -- which finished second but jumped poorly, Gillet said, at a prep race two weeks ago -- beat Nem Blong Hem and Jamaica Bay in 6 minutes and 21 seconds, which is 25 seconds off the course record.

"I was a little nervous because the horse had jumped poorly two weeks ago at his prep race at Marlboro," Gillet said.

Gillet kept Delessio behind early leaders Jamaica Bay and Slewgo for most of the three-mile course, then made his decisive move for the front on the 12th of 16 jumps. Delessio jumped the 16th obstacle alone in front -- where Slewgo landed awkwardly and threw his mount -- and bolted away in the stretch.

"I just stayed behind, kept him patient," Gillet said. "It's like having a race car with no steering and no brakes. I just used the other horses to guide him."

John S.S. Gold Crest won the secondary race, the 73rd annual Memorial, under Anne Finney.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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