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Tuttipaesi Makes the Grade for All Female Partnership

Tuttipaesi After Santa Ana VictorySix-year-old Tuttipaesi (IRE) had to come a long way to win last weekend's Grade 2 Santa Ana, even beyond the many miles she's logged racing around the world. The daughter of Clodovil (IRE) raced in Italy and England before Team Valor International brought the filly stateside to become the first acquisition in the all-female partnership Valor Ladies. Since, she has run in Florida, Kentucky, New York, Massachusetts, and California, but when Team Valor vice president Megan Jones thinks of how far the mare has come, she recalls the horse's five-day stay at New Bolton Center.

“I don't think anyone knows that she was so tough,” said Jones. “I don't think people have realized what she went through between when she was three and now to get back to the races.”

Tuttipaesi suffered a hairline fracture during a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Ashland and took some time off to recover. While she was resting at the farm, Jones got a call from manager Fenella O'Flynn at Grattan Farm.

“She kept saying [Tuttipaesi] wasn't right. They had the vets out a number of times and thought it was gas colic,” recalled Jones. “She called me on a Sunday morning and said, ‘I can't put my finger on it, but she isn't right.' I said, ‘I believe you, just take her to New Bolton.'”

It turned out the gray filly had a case of colitis (inflammation of the intestine) triggered by Potomac Horse Fever, a bacterial infection which can sometimes prove fatal. Veterinarians at New Bolton iced the filly's feet to stave off laminitic changes that can occur within a few days of contracting Potomac Horse Fever. Jones credits the fast actions of the farm and the veterinary team with controlling Tuttipaesi's illness before it took a turn for the worse.

By the time Tuttipaesi had recovered from her illness and fracture, it had been over a year since her last start. Jones remembers trainer Bill Mott tactfully managing her expectations of the horse's performance, and in her early return to the track, Tuttipaesi's form suggested that her biggest successes were behind her. Slowly but surely, however, she has returned to glory, with a second-place effort in the De La Rose, a win in the Suffolk Downs Distaff Turf, and a win in the South Beach in December.

Jones has taken quite the journey to stand in the winner's circle alongside Tuttipaesi. A native of rural South Carolina, she still isn't sure why the horse racing bug bit her at a young age, but she was most certainly bitten. Although she showed hunter/jumpers most of her life, there weren't many Thoroughbreds in her part of the country. An avid reader, Jones remembers picking up a copy of Ruffian: Burning from the Start at her local Books-A-Million and being hooked. She took out a subscription to the Blood-Horse and profiled each year's Kentucky Derby, taking bets from family members on their favorite contenders. When her grade school class was asked to profile a favorite leader, her classmates chose former presidents. Jones chose trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Her teacher didn't know the trainer's name, but Jones made a good argument for why his operation required him to have strong leadership skills. She received an A on her project.

“I was kind of a strange child,” she joked. “In third grade, I would hide Steve Haskin's Derby notes under my spelling homework and read them when my mom went downstairs.”

Although it seems natural someone so fascinated by racing would end up working in the business, Jones said she wasn't sure where she would fit into the sport. When she graduated college with a master's degree in marketing, the recession was in full swing and she was mass mailing resumes to large companies and stud farms. A friend called her to let Jones know that Team Valor had a position available, but it was in client relations, not marketing. Despite what Jones recalls as a total lack of experience in the Thoroughbred world, Team Valor founder Barry Irwin hired her.

“I've tried to put my head down and learn, and surround myself with the horses as much as possible,” she said. “I think that's part of the fun thing about horses is that you never stop learning, ever.”

Jones, 31, has risen in the ranks to her current role as vice president, which includes everything from daily management decisions for Team Valor's horses to organizing trips and hospitality for the partnership's owners. Although many people of Jones' age and background could find the task of managing graded stakes-level horses intimidating, the weight of such decisions feels light on her shoulders… most of the time.

“Barry pretty much leaves it to me now,” she said. “He still educates me, and sometimes that means giving me advice when I don't want it, and sometimes that means not giving me advice when I ask. Just last week I gave him the PP's for the Santa Ana and asked him to be sure I wasn't being crazy, signing that race. He refused to look, because he was teaching me that I could make the decision on my own.”

It was while organizing hospitality trips that Jones realized how many female owners were scattered across various partnerships within Team Valor. She thought each of them would really enjoy socializing with the others, but they tended to be at the track at different times based on when their horses ran. That was when she thought of creating a women-only racing partnership, and Valor Ladies was born. Jones has seen strong friendships grow out of Valor Ladies and believes the partners have formed strong bonds with the three horses in the group's care. Many of them even visited Tuttipaesi when she was laid up due to illness or injury and seem to appreciate the mare's stubborn streak.

“I don't know why, but all of our fillies have turned out to be very strong-minded and opinionated. I think the girls really appreciate that and find it entertaining. They don't mind that the fillies like to do things on their own terms,” said Jones.

There are no official plans yet for Tuttipaesi's next start. She will tell trainer Bill Mott when she's ready to go again.




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