Preakness: King Congie in race for more than just glory

The race is a perfect tribute to his namesake

Question of the Day

What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

View results

BALTIMORE — Congie DeVito spent much of his life in a wheelchair, battling a rare bone disease. Most of that time in the past two decades, he also spent working for West Point Thoroughbreds and watching just about every Temple football and basketball game he could.

Along the way, DeVito managed to strike up a friendship with legendary Owls basketball coach John Chaney, name a horse that’s running in the Preakness and touch the lives of many at West Point Thoroughbreds and Temple. When King Congie breaks from the starting gate Saturday evening, it’ll be a tribute to the man whose brave fight with brittle-bone disease ended unexpectedly in February.

“He was such an outspoken, wonderful, positive personality — probably the biggest personality that I’ve met in my whole life,” Mike Masiello of West Point Thoroughbreds said, struggling to speak through tears. “He was such a great person, and he’s got us all here, and this is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to us.”

Chaney said DeVito “was at every sporting event,” and every time the coach saw him at a game, he’d walk over, put his arms around him and give him a kiss. Chaney had to be careful with DeVito’s bone disease, but the emotion was always there even if a bear hug wasn’t always possible.

“This young man was so brave. All of those years he must’ve been in such pain,” Chaney said, holding back tears. “I’m so proud that I know him and that I knew him and that I was a part of his life.”

Chaney was up until the end, visiting DeVito in the hospital, holding his hand and talking to him just days before he died Feb. 16 of complications from his lifelong disease. He was only 35.

King Congie running in the Preakness gives the group plenty to smile about in remembering DeVito. Masiello recalled the story of buying a scrawny 2-year-old horse and trying to sell him. DeVito was charged with doing just that and agreed to — on the condition of naming the horse, which he did … after himself.

“The name King Congie is so appropriate because, despite his physical limitations, when he started talking — he had a motorized wheelchair — people tended to gather around him as he spoke,” Bellhouse said. “It was like he always had a court of people.”

The name is great, but that wouldn’t amount to much if the horse didn’t perform. After a couple rough starts, he won at odds of 43-1 at Aqueduct in November. A second victory followed in January and another in February (though that one was wiped out with a disqualification).

A few days later, DeVito died. But a third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes in April put King Congie on track for bigger things to come — namely this Preakness. Chaney wasn’t aware there was a horse named after his friend, but when told the colt was small but raced beyond expectations, the coach laughed.

“That was kinda like Congie,” he said.

The expectation Saturday isn’t high. Few expect the 30-1 shot to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown, but that won’t deter the people of West Point Thoroughbreds from enjoying this experience.

“We had a conference call with our partners the other day, and the last thing I said to them was, ‘Please, please, please, just soak up every moment of this — the draw, the breakfast, the race. This is why you get into horse racing,’” Bellhouse said. “And obviously to have this horse — this particular horse — whose breeding doesn’t jump out at you that he’s a classic horse and then to lose Congie unexpectedly in February, you can’t help but think there’s some special magic there.”

The magic will be there even if King Congie finishes last. But Bellhouse expects this horse to do his namesake proud.

“I think we’re all very confident that he’ll run good and he always tries real hard. Whether he’s good enough to win the whole thing, who knows?” he said. “But you won’t have any disappointed people in this group, just for the recognition of Congie’s life and accomplishments that he’s gotten through this whole process.”

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like
  • Nathan Walker waits to take the ice during the Capitals' development camp at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington on Monday, July 9, 2012. (Ryan M.L. Young/The Washington Times)

    Nathan Walker’s NHL dreams send him around the world

  • Washington Nationals' Anthony Rendon, third from left, smiles as he warms up with his teammates who were were wearing t-shirts in support of him for the All Star game before an interleague baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park, Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Anthony Rendon not an All-Star, but he’s been Nats’ MVP

  • Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter speaks during a media availability in the dugout before an interleague baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Monday, July 7, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    LOVERRO: Suck-up Buck Showalter needs history lesson

  • Argentina's Maxi Rodriguez, left, celebrates with goalkeeper Sergio Romero after scoring the decisive goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shootout to reach the World Cup final. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

    Argentina beats Dutch in shootout to reach World Cup final

  • Washington Redskins safety Tanard Jackson speaks during a media availability after an NFL football training camp practice at Redskins Park, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

    Tanard Jackson suspended indefinitely by NFL — again

  • Celebrities In The News
  • Hall of Fame Inductees, KISS, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, Gene Simmons, and Ace Frehley speak at the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Thursday, April, 10, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

    KISS rocker Gene Simmons touts 1 percent life: ‘It’s fantastic’

  • This image from video released by Funny Or Die shows President Obama, left, with actor-comedian Zach Galifianakis during an appearance on "Between Two Ferns," the digital short with a laser focus on reaching people aged 18 to 34. The president urged young people to sign up for the new health care plan through an appearance posted Tuesday, March 11, 2014, on the comic website Funny or Die, bypassing TV talk show titans like Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel for an online audience. (AP Photo/Funny Or Die)

    Obama’s ‘Ferns’ interview gets Emmy nod

  • ** FILE ** In this Nov. 12, 2013, file photo, actor Alec Baldwin leaves court in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

    Alec Baldwin in talks to play Rob Ford-like mayor in new NBC drama