Three Chimneys presents Good News Friday: The King of West Point - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Three Chimneys presents Good News Friday: The King of West Point

All Congie DeVito ever wanted was a chance. A chance to show he could work hard, get the job done, demonstrate some loyalty.
He didn't want sympathy over the fact he's been in a wheelchair his whole life. That he can't do the simple things that you and I take for granted – like brushing his teeth or getting into bed – without someone else's assistance.

He's only four foot two inches tall – stunted and physically handicapped by the rare affliction osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly called brittle bone disease.

But the measure of this man isn't gauged by a yardstick. It's the enthusiasm, an upbeat, almost brash philosophy about life that can only make you shake your head and wonder how he does it.

Congie, in case the name doesn't ring a bell, is the namesake for Saturday's Tropical Park Derby winner, King Congie pronounced kahn-jee (the “g” is soft). Don't get it wrong in his presence! Congie is the self-proclaimed “king” of West Point Thoroughbreds, which owns the 3-year-old ridgling by Badge of Silver.

Congie DeVito, according to West Point founder and president, Terry Finley, is the most persistent individual he's ever known.

A 1998 graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, Congie developed an interest in horse racing when his father and mother used to take him to Garden State Park, not far from his family's New Jersey home.  Because of his condition – he was born with 25 broken bones and had a total of 125 broken by the age of 12 – he obviously couldn't compete in sports.  But sports — along with politics —  was his passion.

In 1997, he'd heard a radio ad for West Point partnerships and made some phone calls. “I called Terry and said I'd love to get involved,” Congie said. “I ended up in a West Point partnership with a claiming horse that never won – until he got claimed away from us. I gave the share in the horse to myself as a graduation present from college. I just wanted to see what it was like to own a horse.”

After the partnership dissolved, Congie called Finley again. And again. And again. “I probably called him 15 or 16 times,” Congie recalled. “I said, 'Hey, if you're looking to grow, I'd love to be on the team. I'll volunteer. You don't even have to pay me.'”

Finley had someone working on West Point's website at the time and offered Congie a chance to help out with updates. “I probably worked on it 20 minutes a week,” Congie said. “Little rinky dink stuff.”

West Point grew and Congie kept calling, reminding Finley: “'I'm loyal, hard-working, and I'm not going anywhere.' I was relentless,” he said. “When I'd heard he had to let someone go, I called him again and said, 'I know what went down, and I'm sorry. But you're going to need somebody to help you out. I'm not saying you need to bring me on full time, but at least let me help you out during a time of transition. ' I got him at a moment of weakness, and he said, 'OK, that sounds good.'

“I felt like I was a horse sitting in third behind two dueling pacesetters, and on the turn the pacesetters began to drift out. I said, 'I'm going for the hole on the rail right now.'”

Congie joined West Point, working in communications, acting as a liaison with the stable's partners, and he's been at it ever since.

“My job was to be the eyes and ears,” he said. “If you're going to throw down significant amounts of cash, you're going to trust us to make management decisions, and I sure as heck better be doing everything I can to make you feel as if you understand everything that's going on with the horses.”

He knows a thing or two about loyalty. He's been a fan of Temple's football team since childhood and endured 26 losing seasons in 28 years. As a kid, he would even go to the team's football practices, where he met Temple's legendary basketball coach, John Chaney, and the two became fast friends. Temple's athletic department gives out an award on special occasions, the Congie DeVito Award, in recognition of loyalty and perseverance.

That he attended and graduated from Temple with honors is not just a tribute to Congie, but also to his mother, Roberta, who drove him nearly an hour to school every day, pushed him from class to class in his wheelchair, and then would drive him home.

Roberta DeVito started a foundation, the American Brittle Bone Society, which tried to raise awareness and to make more funding available to research the disease (it has since merged into the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation). Every spring, she would go to Washington, D.C., and speak with legislators. Once, when he was four years old, Congie testified in front of Congress. “My Mom told me what to say. 'We need more research money so I can have strong bones like my Dad.'” Congie's father died in 1990.

Congie is realistic about his condition, and has been for a long time.

“I had to early on come to the realization that in order for me to be the successful person my parents pushed me to be, I would have to adapt,” he said. “I looked at horse racing, where there's a relationship that develops between the rider and the horse, the trainer and the horse. If a rider gives a bad ride, it impacts the result. If a trainer misses that a horse has heat in a tendon, that horse is not going to perform well.

“I look at the sport and say it's very similar to my situation: for me to be as successful as I want to be, I've got to make that connection with other people – and be willing to be in their hands. It's as simple as being lifted into bed by somebody. When I looked at horse racing and watch how they perform, it became a special sort of treat for me.

“Not everybody is going to look at horse racing in that deep metaphorical way. I am competitive, but I also love the fact that this is a sport that requires integration between two entities.”

So we know that Congie can be deeply philosophical. But he's also got one hell of a sense of humor.

When the Finleys' daughter, Erin, was trained to take over many of Congie's communications responsibilities, he sent out an email to West Point partners saying that he was stepping down from that position – and many of them were upset, thinking he was leaving the company.  The fact is he has moved into a role on the revenue generating side. The next day, he sent out a second email, saying he had been promoted to “king” of West Point, adding that in his new role he had decided to name a horse King Congie.

King Congie hooked a monster named Uncle Mo in his first start at Saratoga, but graduated from the maiden ranks in his third try, after being switched to turf. He won the Tropical Park Derby on grass, but his namesake is hoping that he might not just be a one-surface horse. “If things work out, I wouldn't be against taking the black and gold (West Point's colors) to the first Saturday in May,” he said in an obvious reference to the Kentucky Derby.

“I'm not so humble that I haven't thought about getting my pimp suit ready.”

Wouldn't that be a sight?

Congie, incidentally, said the real story isn't what he's done to overcome his physical handicaps. “Please shine light on the fact that Terry and Debbie, as the owners of West Point Thoroughbreds, were really responsible. They gave me a chance.”

And that's all he ever really wanted.

*    *   *

Thanks to the generosity of Three Chimneys Farm, the sponsor of Good News Friday, a donation of $100 will be made to the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation. Three Chimneys will be donating that amount each and every week we bring you a story of people or organizations making a positive difference in our world.

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