When Sweetnorthernsaint co-owner Ted Theos was looking to bring his and partner Joe Balsalmo's horses to a Maryland area trainer two years ago, he looked for a conditioner who embodied focus, dedication, and hard work. Those requirements wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the semi-retired restaurateur and real estate speculator, considering that Theos' entire life personifies those very attributes.While trainer Mike Trombetta has fulfilled every conceivable aspiration Theos had for his Mid-Atlantic program culminating with Sweetnorthernsaint's expected start in the 132nd Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), it is the Greek native's own remarkable life story that demonstrates what is possible through focus, dedication and hard work.For Theos, whose odyssey of American immigrant success is different than most, being a participant in the "greatest race in the world" partially completes a search that began shortly after World War II when he left the Ionian Sea island of Sephalonia to come to the U.S. in a quest for his father's, and his family's, legacy.His father, Theotokis Theotokatos, had come to America in 1918 as a teacher, but quickly realized that a secure future for his family required his gaining an advanced education. He enrolled in Columbia Law School (now Georgetown), became an attorney and practiced in Chicago and New York. Becoming a leader in the American Greek community, Theotokatos wrote dual language textbooks and that helped generations of Greek immigrants acclimate and succeed upon their arrival in the U.S.In 1947 at the age of 57, Theos' father died suddenly while his wife Theoni was pregnant with their son. At age 18, Theos traveled to the U.S. to discover what had been left behind by a father he knew only from his beloved mother's description. Theos uncovered his father's law records, associated papers and sterling reputation, but also uncovered that his money and property had been usurped by his associates more than a decade earlier when U.S. Immigration Officials denied his mother admittance to settle her husband's estate. After a brief return to Greece, Theos came to America for good and began a career dedicated to regaining that which had been taken from him before he had even been born.With the focus, dedication and hard work he admires in Trombetta, Theos began toiling in restaurants, eventually buying one, and then several Dairy Queen franchises. More successful restaurant ventures followed, and later he began buying and selling real estate in the Maryland-District of Columbia area. His untiring efforts secured the future that was stolen from him and his mother, who lived with Theos, his wife Linda and their three daughters during the summer months while wintering in Greece, until her passing three years ago. In an irony that is hardly lost on the affable 58-year-old, his eldest daughter Theoni, 38, is a career member of the American Diplomatic Corps, supervising 250 employees that review immigration applications. His other daughters -- Maria, 29, and Annastacia, 26 -- also live and work in the Baltimore-Washington area. Theos claimed his first horse in 1985 at Bowie. "His name was Really Lean", he explains, "He was $8,500, and broke down in the race I claimed him from and never ran for me." Undaunted, Theos developed a long term relationship with Florida's reknowned Azpurua family, starting in 1988, and began to buy and develop a steady series of runners in Florida. He began a 30-year relationship with partner Balsalmo when he listed property with the well known Baltimore area realtor-developer, and they went in together on horses after a fateful trip to Laurel.After watching one of Balsalmo's horses run poorly, Theos suggested a partnership and delivered a startling promise.
"I said to Joe that he was too successful to own cheap horses," laughs Theos. "I told him we should partner and that I'd get him to the Kentucky Derby. Now it's eight years later but I kept my promise to get him to the Derby." For those that will scoff at the outlandish boast, Theos will produce a friend during Derby Week who was in the car as he and Balsalmo drove through the Maryland countryside. Between then and Sweetnorthernsaint, the pair have seen top level success with sprinter Weigelia, winner of the grade III Carry Back and runner up in the grade I King's Bishop. Two years ago, the partners moved their operation north and began working with Trombetta, and even their acquisition of Sweetnorthernsaint augments the concidences that pervade Theos' life. Sweetsouthernsaint won the What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder at age two for the Azpurua family, and was a Derby hopeful in 1998 before a bowed tendon ended his career prematurely. As a two crop sire, the son of Saint Ballado has been a success at stud, siring stakes winners Better Than Bonds, Genaral John B and Alexandersrun in advance of Sweetnorthernsaint. To the Azpuruas, who will be attending the Derby at Theos' urging and invitation, Sweetnorthernsaint is a surrogate for their missed opportunity at a rose blanket eight years ago.For Theos, a vocal advocate for improved treatment of backstretch workers, Derby glory by Sweetnorthernsaint would not only be the completion of a lifelong quest for an elusive identity, but the establishment of a family legacy more than 80 years in the making.