October 12, 2009

Remembering ... Melair

It was the Summer of 1986 and something was brewing on the West Coast. There was a California bred filly who was winning races so easily and so fast that she was turning heads of even the most hard-boiled trainer on the Southern California circuit. She was a roan, 3-year-old daughter of Debonair Roger out of the stakes producing mare Melrose Nugget and her name was Melair. During a ten week span from late April to early July, she went from a maiden to the toast of the racing nation.

Just how could this unknown filly with rather obscure breeding, owned by retired school teachers, trained by a young trainer, and ridden by a young rider, ascend the American racing scene so quickly?

Melair began her career late mostly because her owners did not to care to race their horses at two. Once she finally did make it to the track, she wasted no time in winning her debut by 3 ½ lengths against maidens at Hollywood Park on April 25. After that, she was a 9 length winner in allowance company, breaking the track's 6 furlong record with a clocking of 1:08 3/5. Melair’s third race was her first in a stakes, and she passed that test with flying colors with a 7 ½ length win of the 7 furlong Railbird Stakes on June 4. Melair’s meteoric rise to stardom would be given her legitimate test in her next race, the Railbird Stakes on June 21. There she would face the filly who had been the leader of the West Coast 3-year-old fillies, Hidden Light. Trained by legendary conditioner Charlie Whittingham, it was truly a match-up of the old guard against the new in more ways than one. Fans had little trouble in deciding who they would favor as they made the new sensation a heavy favorite. Melair would not disappoint. Hidden Light challenged her on the turn, but the Silver Streak proved much too much in the one mile affair. Pulling clear by 3 ½, Melair had proven herself to be a California star. It would be in her fifth and final race that she slapped the racing establishment in the face and said yes, Melair is not only a good Cal-bred, but she is a national superstar.

July 5, 1986 at Hollywood Park was supposed to be the return home of the conquering hero, Snow Chief. Also a California bred, Snow Chief had been the star of California before heading East to win the Florida Derby and when he arrived in Louisville, he was a heavy Kentucky Derby favorite. He failed in the Derby, but had rebounded to win the Preakness and the rich Jersey Derby. Snow Chief was well on his way to an Eclipse Award as the 3-year-old champion. The Silver Screen Handicap, it was decided would be the race that Melair would try the colts. An ambitious test for the lightly raced 3-year-old filly, to face the top colt in the country, but it showed the confidence her trainer, John Sadler, had in her. Snow Chief did not run his best that day as he could not stay with the Silver Streak early and then was disheartened in the lane checking in 3rd, beaten 11 lengths. Frankly it would not have mattered if he had run the best race of his life on this day. Melair, ridden by Patrick Valenzueala, scorched the earth in the Silver Screen, running one of the fastest miles ever run, 1:32 3/5 in beating the nice colt Southern Halo by 6 ½ lengths. Along the way she set fractions of 22 1/5, 44 3/5, 1:08, and 1:19 4/5. That’s right I said 1:19 4/5! Everyone knew the name of Melair after that performance.

We never got to see her on a racetrack again, however, as Melair was twice taken out of training because of serious bouts of colic. We are left to our imaginations to wonder how good this modestly bred daughter of Debonair Roger, owned by Bea Rous and Marriane Millard could have been. What we do know is that for ten weeks and five races at Hollywood Park, no horse could touch her.

Colic finished her racing career far too early, and in the end, Melair finally succumbed to her recurring bouts with the gastrointestinal infirmity. She was put to rest on May 24, 1999, at the age of 16 because of complications from colic. It proved to be the only thing the Silver Streak could not outrun. I remember you Melair.


Anonymous said...

Just testing (again!), I'll see if using "Annonymous" will take this!...thank you very much for remembering one of my all-time favorite gals, Brian!

Anonymous said...

Woohoo!! It worked, LOL

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for writing about her, Brian... she remains one of my all-time favorite girls! if I can find what I did with it, I'll send you an interview that was done with her owner...it's really bittersweet, but has some great quotes about just what an amazing filly she was. Thanks again for remembering her!

Luvbarbaro said...

That gave me goosebumps Brian, excellent blog. I felt like I was right there watching Melair beat the boys! :>)

Leslie M. Kuretzky said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful article on Melair. She was a marvelous mare. A grey too if I remember correctly and almost pure white.

Brian Zipse said...

Melair certainly deserves to be remembered. What a talent she was. Fun for me to write about, I am glad many of you enjoyed reading about her.

LDP said...

Great job Brian. You'll see me hear more often. I don't think I'll be commenting on Jason's blog anymore. Check out the last few comments on the Grade One Bonaza blog of his if you want to know why. Your's are much kinder.