New Orleans, La (March 22, 2023) – Cagliostro should count his lucky stars. The 3-year-old Upstart colt trained by Cherie DeVaux will be making his fourth start on Saturday in the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Stepping forward in every race, he’s earned the right to be there, but he lucked out to find three women ready to tolerate his antics, to teach him the rules of barn life, and to capture his overactive mind to show him his potential as a racehorse.
Physically the potential has always been there, as trainer Cherie DeVaux recognized when selecting him at the 2-year-old Spring 2022 Ocala Sale. Mentally, well he’s a Thoroughbred, and each comes with their own challenges. Possibly the best way to understand the project known as David Ingordo, Talla Racing, James Spry, West Point Thoroughbreds and Nice Guys Stables’ Cagliostro is to know a few things about the real-life Cagliostro.
An Italian psychic healer and alchemist living in the 1700s, Cagliostro was also a scoundrel whose writings were burned by the Catholic Church. Infamous across Europe for his antics, so much so that the real-life Cagliostro was also the basis for Goethe’s title-character Faust, who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads and lived a sinful life.
The parallels are uncanny, as the DeVaux barn has worked hard to sort out all the biting, the breaking loose, the misbehavior and get their Cagliostro back on the righteous path. The path of Kentucky roses, perhaps. But first, he’ll need to outrace eleven others in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby.
Cherie leads the team but her younger sister Adrianne DeVaux is the assistant trainer on the grounds and Rachel Beaulieu is the barn foreman. With Cherie at Ocala early in the week ahead of Cagliostro’s run in the Louisiana Derby, Adrianne and Rachel kept to task overseeing the 16 Thoroughbreds on the grounds, preparing Cagliostro for his first stakes race, and making sure their promising 3-year-old has plenty of bananas.
“He eats bananas everyday,” Adrianne DeVaux said. “His favorite part is the peel.”
A banana-loving colt, who in the beginning could readily be described as “bananas” – some things are just funny that way. Cagliostro, the Italian alchemist. Alchemy is a perfect way to describe the task which was laid upon the DeVaux barn as they’ve been hard at work melding Cagliostro’s reckless, unbounded mind with his raw physicality to transform it all into a new substance – a racehorse.
“When he first came into the barn, he was all over the place mentally,” Adrianne said. “He wasn’t focused on the track or in the barn. He wasn’t very friendly. You couldn’t put a lip chain on him, couldn’t put a bridle on him. He didn’t want to get medication, catching him in the stall was difficult. In July at Saratoga when Rachel (Beaulieu) joined our team I said ‘here, he’s your project. Work with him.’ Rachel was his punching bag for a while. He would grab her, bite her and she would stand there and take it, and he eventually realized he had one person who was in his corner. Rachel has helped to show him life’s not so scary.”
“It was a little bit of a struggle,” Rachel said. “When I showed up at Saratoga I saw this horse who was (reduced to) walking the shedrow because he kept getting loose when he went for a walk outside. I took it upon myself to be like ‘well, you are going to need to be able to walk like a well-mannered boy’.’”
Adrianne and Rachel have a subtle yet infectious joy to them. They are thoughtful and quick to infuse humor into any difficult task. They both put off an unflappable air, and once upon a time, Cagliostro was by all means a flapper. Another barn might have met his antics with forceful antics of their own. Not these horsemen.
“Patience is the key,” Rachel said. “Being calm. If anyone acts up around him, he’ll start freaking out.”
“He does like women, and I think being a team of women has been a big part of it,” Adrianne said. “In general women have the touch. Our stature, yes, but our demeanor – it’s Cherie, Rachel, and me. You have a team of women and a horse like him is able to understand ‘okay, it’s alright.’ Slowly he’s kind of realized everyone is here to help him. He’s had the same groom, he’s had consistency, and I think that’s really helped him. He loves Cherie, he loves Rachel, and well, he tolerates me.”
“For the most part, women don’t try to outmuscle the horse,” Rachel said. “If something happens, it’s like okay what happened? We figure it out, and do something different. Women know how to tolerate and give the horse space to learn. But if he crosses the line, then we let him know he crossed the line, correct him. It’s all about understanding how insignificant things become significant.”
After finishing sixth on debut at Saratoga as a 2-year-old, Cagliostro didn’t make his next start until January’s Lecomte undercard. He won his first start as a 3-year-old, then he stepped up to a salty allowance on the Risen Star undercard and would have made it two wins in a row if it wasn’t for Denington’s late jump past him at the wire. He’ll face Denington again in the Louisiana Derby.
“Most of the time you can tell horses what you want them to do,” Adrianne said. “(Cagliostro) has to have it spelled out for him. We can’t just show him two and two, he’s got to also know that it equals four. Then he’ll be like ‘oh, I got it now.’ Once he ran at Saratoga, he came back and you could see the wheels were starting to spin, like this is fun. Then he started getting into his works, and before he ran here (at Fair Grounds) he was still very green, but once he got into the race, he was like ‘wait a minute I got this.’ His third race here was even better. I think he realized that this is fun. He was having fun out there. Denington just surprised him and dropped him at the wire. But Cagliostro came back on in the gallop out.”
“From Saratoga to now he’s progressed so much,” Rachel said. “It was a team effort. Now that he’s getting bigger, I just kind of baby him,” Rachel said. “It’s cool to see his mind work. He’s always looking at things, assessing, analyzing. Cool to see him take it all in and not want to be so crazy.”
Whether mentally, physically, or both, every racehorse is an ongoing project, but Cagliostro’s story has a certain charm to it. The success the DeVaux barn has had with Cagliostro offers an insight into what many trainers are working with in our sport, specifically those with 3-year-olds currently in the thick of Derby and Oaks dreams. When they’re dreaming of roses, sometimes they’re dealing with bananas.
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