Congomambo was purchased for $325 in 2005 out of a killer pen at a sale in Camelot, New Jersey, by a man who owned a rental stable. He was at least 400 pounds underweight and his winter hair was three inches long, making him look more like a wooly mammoth than a horse. He had a huge pair of ankles. More significantly, a nylon halter that was way too small for him had been left on for a long period of time and rubbed him raw. The skin had healed over the halter, causing the strap to become embedded into his face. The nylon halter had to literally be cut and pulled out from under his skin, creating a gash that covers three-quarters of the side of his face. He was brought to the farm and tied into a straight stall. The Coggins read that he was a “grade” horse, as he was in such bad shape that he couldn’t be identified as a Thoroughbred. He was estimated to be between 10 and 12 years old.
On his first day of turnout a hack horse immediately kicked him in the hock, but his injury went unrecognized for a few days. After I noticed how blown up his hock was, I medicated him. This was my first real encounter with a horse we now call Tomato. (He was originally named Tornado by a girl who worked there, but she kept mispronouncing it and would call him Tomato, so the name stuck!)
There was something about this animal that kept striking a chord with me. Niki Yaeger and Pam Shavelson felt the same way. We began starting to rehab him by worming him and supplementing his high caloric feed with vitamins. Pam began to ride him out on the trails and also started a two-month lease on him.
We tried to decipher his tattoo, but the letter and last number were barely legible. Niki, however, gave officials at Philadelphia Park his age and the numbers we could decipher, and they discovered two horses they thought he could be – both were 11-year-olds that raced out in New Mexico and Arizona as three-year-olds.
When Pam could no longer lease Tomato, the man who owned him wanted to put him out on the hack line. We were distraught because of all the hard work [that had been put into him] and felt the weight he had gained would immediately disappear as riders would beat him and run him anytime they could. We knew it would just kill this horse. So, we offered the man $1,500 for him and bought him so he could never become a hack horse or end up in the same condition he came to us.
I took him down the street to a farm owned by the Citaras, who gave him impeccable care and fattened him up. In the meantime, my goal was to sell him and find him a great home. I had a slew of people look at him, but nobody took him home. He was too green for one, too small for another and too tall for the last person.
At the Citaras, he not only blossomed, but turned into a magnificent looking animal. A full bodied 16.3 hand beauty – but still no buyers! I decided I might have better luck selling him by taking him down to the stable he originally came from, since his weight could now be easily maintained.
When I brought him back, not one person recognized him. They couldn’t believe he was the same horse. When I turned him out, it was so satisfying to see him run and play with the other horses. His spirit had returned to him!
However, his identity never sat well with me, as he just had too much class to come from the caliber of horses our prior results had revealed. After reading an article about how a flashlight and a dark area really help bring out the ink of a horse’s tattoo, I decided to give it a try. To my amazement, it worked.
I e-mailed The Jockey Club to [find out] the true identity of Tomato. When the results came back to me, I had to sit down. His real name is Congomambo and he is by Kingmambo (who stands for a $300,000 stud fee) out of a mare called Lubicon (she was champion three-year-old filly in Canada in 1990). He was bred and owned by Live Oak Plantation, which is owned by Charlotte Weber, the heir to the Campbell Soup fortune.
Congomambo turned out to be a regally-bred horse, whose sire’s colts have sold for over $1 million at sales. How did he end up in a slaughter pen?
I pulled his entire race record to find that Live Oak didn’t try to sell him, but instead kept him and raced him. He was injured in his third start, a maiden special weight at Belmont Park, given nine months off and then brought back to race in Florida. He was not consistent as a racehorse, not the type of horse that Live Oak wanted in their stable, so they sold him to their trainer, William Cesare, in 2003. Congomambo won a few races for Cesare, but was no superstar. So after running poorly for $8,000 in Calder, he was sold to the Henry Worcester outfit that competes in West Virginia at Charlestown. He ran a couple times for $5,000, won for $3,500, and his last race came on May 13, 2005 – a $3,500 claiming race in which he finished a bad fifth.
I was informed Congomambo stopped racing because his ankles were almost locked and he really wasn’t competitive anymore. The individual who owned him had planned to take him to Florida and send him to a retirement farm, but that obviously never happened.
For the time being Tomato, aka Congomambo, is enjoying his life just being a horse. I could stand there all day and watch him and his friends gallop around and play. It makes my heart feel so good when I see how alive his spirit is again.
Congomambo (KY), 1999, g., Kingmambo—Lubicon, by Apalachee.
Raced four years, 35-3-3-4, $40,115.