Raymond LeCesse, the first owner to win a grade I stakes with a New York-bred, died June 5 in Rochester, N.Y. He was 88.
LeCesse’s homebred horse Fio Rito made history when he won the 1981 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga to become the first New York-bred to win a grade I stakes. Fio Rito, who went into the race with 14 stakes wins, defeated Paul Mellon’s grade I winner Winter's Tale by a neck to take home first-place money of $105,300.
Fio Rito (Dreaming Native—Seagret, by Sea Charger) concluded his race career that year with career earnings of $584,142. He won 28 of 50 races. Fio Rito died in 1996 and was buried in the infield at his home track, Finger Lakes, south of Rochester. Tin Cup Chalice, a multiple stakes winner trained and co-owned by LeCesse’s son, Mike, is the only other horse buried in the infield.
Fio Rito was named after a friend of Raymond LeCesse.
“Foster Brooks (a comedian) is a friend of mine, and I almost named the colt Loveable Lush,” according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “But another friend is Chris Fio Rito, a trumpet player in Las Vegas. He’s a racing nut and was constantly bugging me to name a horse after him.”
LeCesse also operated a bowling alley, and was in the meat and construction businesses. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II in Europe and spent time in a prison camp after his plane was shot down.
LeCesse’s survivors include Mike and four other children.