She broke Sunline’s Group 1 record and could draw level with Black Caviar at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
Imagine training a mare good enough to be mentioned in the same sentence as those two legendary champions.
Jamie Richards, New Zealand’s leading trainer, conceded it’s humbling to know his mare, Melody Belle, has developed a race record that is deserving of comparison with two of the all-time greats in Sunline and Black Caviar.
“I was still at school when Sunline won in Hong Kong and beat Fairy King Prawn in the International Mile – you don’t forget big wins like that,” Richards said.
Jamie Richards has put the polish on Melody Belle through most of her career. Picture: Trish DunellSource:The Daily Telegraph
“It’s a great honour to train a mare like Melody Belle that is talked about with Sunline.”
Melody Belle is lining up in the Group 1 $1.5 million Tancred Stakes (2400m) on Saturday, her 39th career starts but her first at the “classic” distance.
She has already won more Group 1 races than 13-timer Sunline and if successful in the Tancred, she matches unbeaten Black Caviar’s 15 big-race wins.
Among Melody Belle’s Tancred rivals is Nickajack Cave, the boom former Irish stayer now with Peter Moody, trainer of the great Black Caviar.
The only mare – or any horse for that matter – to win more Group 1 races than Black Caviar is all-time great Winx with 25 wins at racing’s highest level.
Richards isn’t rating Melody Belle with Sunline, Black Caviar or Winx but he says few horses can match his stable star’s sheer competitiveness.
“She wants to be a racehorse, she loves her job,” the trainer said. “She’s never really had a day off for injury or illness so we have been able to train her as we wanted to and that has been a big help.”
Part-owner David Ellis described Melody Belle as a “freak of nature”.
“The mare is sound and has been incredibly well looked after by her trainer,” Ellis said. “Vets would go broke if they were all like Melody Belle.
“To think you can buy a mare at Karaka for $57,500 and win 14 Group 1 races on both sides of the Tasman is just fantastic and shows a lot of people who want to invest in our industry what you can achieve.”
David Ellis, part-owners and principle of Te Akau Racing, bought Melody Belle for $57,500 at the NZB Premier Sale in 2016. Picture: Trish DunellSource:The Daily Telegraph
Ellis’s wife, Karen, said Melody Belle’s desire to race and win is her greatest asset.
“She loves racing – that’s the spirit and heart of a horse that you can’t see when you buy them,” Mrs Ellis said.
Melody Belle is a rising seven-year-old mare who began racing in the spring of 2016, winning a 900m sprint on debut at Ruakaka.
She goes to Rosehill on Saturday as the winner of 19 races, 14 of those at Group 1 level, earning just over $4 million prizemoney.
Sure, she has managed only one Group 1 win in Australia – the 2019 Empire Rose Stakes – but this doesn’t detract from a fabulous record of continued excellence over five consecutive seasons.
“I think Jamie Richards has done a freakish job with this mare,” David Ellis said.
“He has taken her from a debut win over 900m, then later that season she won the Karaka Millions, and the Sires Produce Stakes at Awapuni and Brisbane – and she hasn’t stopped winning since.”
Melody Belle has won at Group 1 level every season she has raced but has never been asked to extend her brilliance to 2400m before.
In the Tancred Stakes tomorrow, her stamina reserves will be tested by proven stayers like Sir Dragonet, Mirage Dancer, Angel Of Truth, Shraaoh, Toffee Tongue and Miami Bound,
But Richards, 31, said there has never been a better opportunity to test Melody Belle over the Tancred Stakes distance.
Melody Belle winning the Bonecrusher Stakes at Ellerslie in her final New Zealand start. Picture: Trish DunellSource:The Daily Telegraph
“The way Melody Belle has been running out 2000m, she has been loving it, I just feel she is showing us she can run the extra 400m,” Richards said.
“She is an older mare now and this is the right time to try. A couple of the big guns (Verry Elleegant and Addeybb) are missing and we have got the leading rider (James McDonald) which is a big help.
“On the dam side of her family, she has quite a bit of stoutness and her rider took a while to pull her up at the end of 2000m last start so they are all good signs.”
Melody Belle has won four Group 1 races this season including her fast finishing effort to take out the Bonecrusher Stakes at Ellerslie three weeks ago.
She has been the mainstay of the Richards stable which has dominated New Zealand racing this season with 11 Group 1 wins while stablemate Probabeel has won another two majors in Australia – the Epsom Handicap and Futurity Stakes.
Probabeel isn’t finished yet, either, with the mare being readied for the Group 1 Coolmore Legacy Queen of the Turf Stakes at Royal Randwick on April 17, Day Two of The Championships.
Richards is also planning to send over NZ Oaks winner Amarelinha for the Group 1 ATC Australian Oaks on the same day Probabeel is scheduled to race, brilliant two-year-old Sword Of State is still a chance for the Group 1 Inglis Sires on April 10, but Avantage, winner of four Group 1 races this season, won’t be added to Sydney autumn carnival team.
Melody Belle winning the Group 1 Empire Rose Stakes at Flemington in 2019. Picture: Vince Caligiuri/AAP ImageSource:AAP
“Avantage is going to the Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes, a Group 1 race for fillies and mares at Te Aroha (April 10) but that will be it for her, she’s had a busy season and we will get her ready for the spring,” Richards said.
“Sword Of State is a very nice young horse but we are keeping an eye on the weather as he doesn’t like it too wet.
“Amarelinha will have a trial to keep her ticking over than the plan is to fly her to Sydney on Monday and race in the Oaks on the Saturday.
“Probabeel is already in Sydney and has settled in well. She will also have a trial to keep her up to the mark but she seems to be going really well.”
Ellis said the Te Akau stable’s success this season – 36 black type wins including 13 at Group 1 level – is due in no small part to the genius of Richards.
“We have some really good staff and the right systems in place at Te Akau and Jamie is making all the right decisions and doing a sensational job,’’ he said.
Melody Belle left the Te Akau stables at Matamata for the last time last Monday to travel to Sydney for the final phase of her outstanding race career.
She will compete at the Sydney autumn carnival and most likely then campaign in Brisbane before being put up for auction at the Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale on the Gold Coast next month.
Melody Belle, pictured with travelling foreman Paul Richards prior to last year’s All-Star Mile, will be sold at the Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale on the Gold Coast. Picture: Pat Scala/Racing PhotosSource:Supplied
“It was a sad day when she left the stables on Monday,” Ellis said. “There was lots of tears from the staff, she was a very popular and kind horse.”
Richards hopes the Monday stable farewell isn’t the last time he sees Melody Belle. He is not travelling to Sydney to watch her race due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the necessity to spend two weeks in quarantine when he returns to New Zealand.
“I can’t go over because of quarantine,” he said.
“We are still hoping the quarantine situation will settle down and we can get over to Australia to watch Melody Belle’s last race or be there when she is sold.
“She has done a wonderful job from a two-year-old to a six-year-old and she means a lot to me. She has been there since the start of my training career.”
Richards admits he has probably not appreciated fully what Melody Belle has been able to accomplish in five stellar seasons on the track.
“I would say it is more a time for reflection after she retires,” Richards said.
“You are just so busy you don’t get much of a chance to think about what she has achieved.
“But when we are having an ordinary day in years to come we will look back and think we didn’t really appreciate her for what she did at the time.
“I honestly feel we need to give her more kudos – she has been a wonderful mare.”
Are mare getting an unfair advantage?
A growing chorus of influential racing industry voices are calling for a detailed study on the weight-for-age scale to determine if mares are given an unfair advantage.
Since the start of the new millennium, the “fairer sex” has become the dominant force in Australian racing.
The trend started with mighty mare Sunline and has been followed in quick succession by champions Makybe Diva, Miss Andretti, More Joyous, Black Caviar and Winx.
Verry Elleegant and Melody Belle are the latest mares to win multiple Group 1 races and excel at weight-for-age where they enjoy a 2kg allowance against colts, entires and geldings.
Peter Moody, who trained the unbeaten Black Caviar to win 15 Group 1 races, said it was time to look at the existing weight-for-age scale and determine whether it has become outdated.
With the introduction of drug-free racing, geldings can no longer be treated with steroids and Moody believes this is when mares have been able to exercise their racetrack dominance.
Sunline decimates her opposition by seven lengths in the W.S. Cox Plate on 2000.Source:News Limited
“When we geld these colts, then their ability to create their own testosterone is taken away but for the fillies, their physical and metabolic make-up is still the same,” Moody said.
“Someone in veterinary science might say that is ‘bulls …’ but it is amazing when you consider the timing factor that in the last couple of decades the mares have been so good because they are bigger and stronger than the old geldings, and the good colts are being whisked off to stud.”
When asked whether the 2kg allowance given to mares under the weight-for-age scale is too generous in the modern era, Moody was typically forthright.
“Maybe there is something in that,” Moody said.
“This is where the handicapping panels should take a close look at it. I’m not saying it has to be done but surely someone can have a look at the statistics.
“It is more than just a coincidence that since steroids for geldings were banned the mares have totally dominated.”
Black Caviar was unbeaten in her 25 start career which included 15 Group 1 wins.Source:News Limited
Godolphin Australia managing director Vin Cox also believes the time has come to consider if changes to the weight-for-age scale need to be made.
“There has been a prevalence of dominant mares not only in Australia but around the world,” Cox said.
“In this country, we have seen the likes of Sunline, Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and Winx but when you look further afield to the northern hemisphere, mares like Enable, Zenyatta and Goldikova have also been dominant champions.
“I’m not saying the weight-for-age scale needs to be changed but it should be evaluated.
“Perhaps it is time to have a quantitative and qualitative study on this issue to see if the weight-for-age scale should be changed.”
Arrowfield Stud supremo John Messara felt the dominance of mares in the modern era is more likely a combination of various factors including the perceived advantage they get at weight-for-age, the ban on the use of steroids, the best colts being sent to stud prematurely and the robust Asian equine export market.
Winx dominated for four season winning a world record 25 Group 1 races. Picture: Grant GuySource:The Daily Telegraph
“I’ve given this a lot of thought in recent years and I don’t think there is one simple answer,” Messara said.
“Often people try to allocate one reason to something when there is three or four things conspiring together.
“I feel there is more than one reason that is seemingly giving mares an edge.”
Messara said it was necessary to conduct a detailed study to determine if the weight-for-age scale has become outdated.
“There needs to be a study done to find if there any sex bias and if that is caused by a weight advantage,” he said.
“In this drug-free era, nature has evened things up a bit but we still give mares a couple of kilograms. It is an interesting and complex discussion.”
Originally published asMelody in fine tune as she aims to equal Black Caviar
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