Maple Leaf Mel much the best in the Victory Ride under Joel Rosario (NYRA/Coglianese)
By Keith McCalmont – NYRA Press Office
ELMONT, N.Y.— August Dawn Farm’s Maple Leaf Mel remained perfect through five starts with a powerful gate-to-wire effort to provide her namesake trainer Melanie Giddings her first career stakes win in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Victory Ride, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies, at Belmont Park.
The Canadian-born Giddings was an assistant to Maple Leaf Mel’s former trainer Jeremiah Englehart before going out on her own in January and has been closely associated with the New York-bred daughter of Cross Traffic throughout her brilliant career. Giddings took over training duties for this race and has been preparing the popular grey upstate at Saratoga Race Course.
“I haven’t eaten all day. I’ve been kind of nervous,” Giddings said. “I actually have to make the drive back to Saratoga tonight, I have some workers in the morning. This will make the drive a lot easier. I was more nervous for the filly than myself. I don’t even feel like it’s about me. I just felt like she was 4-for-4 and I would just hate for her to have anything bad in her life. She’s been so good to me.”
Maple Leaf Mel has won all five of her starts in frontrunning fashion under Joel Rosario, taking state-bred stakes in the Seeking the Ante in August at Saratoga and the East View in March at Aqueduct Racetrack before making the grade last out in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course.
The 39-year-old Giddings, who was treated for ovarian and endocervical cancer in 2020 and is now in improved health, credited Rosario for being a steady hand aboard the young filly.
“I feel comfort having Joel on her. He fits her perfectly,” Giddings said. “I didn’t tell him anything. I just said, ‘Keep doing what you do, you’ve won a lot of races, I won’t tell you how to ride.’”
Rosario once again had Maple Leaf Mel away in a hurry from post 5 to set splits of 22.54 seconds and 45.52 over the fast main track with dual graded-stakes winner Red Carpet Ready tracking to her outside in second position and the Flavien Prat-piloted Dazzling Blue saving ground in third.
Maple Leaf Mel put away Red Carpet Ready as Dazzling Blue came off the rail late in the turn to take aim at the leader, but there was no reeling in the winner, who notched the 2 1/2-length score in a final time of 1:15.74. Dazzling Blue held place honors by 1 1/2-lengths over the late-running Vahva with the slow-starting Interpolate, Downtown Mischief, Topsy, Red Carpet Ready and Adeliese’s Smile rounding out the order of finish.
Rosario said he felt comfortable throughout.
“She’s very nice. She goes out there and just does her job,” Rosario said. “She was very relaxed and was never worried about someone challenging her because she was moving so well. She was always in charge. She goes out there and shows her speed and says, ‘come and beat me.'”
The Brad Cox-trained Dazzling Blue was making her graded-stakes debut after three wins in as many starts, including a score in the Letellier Memorial in December at Fair Grounds.
Prat said he felt he was in a position to win as the field straightened away.
“I thought, for a moment, turning for home I could engage her [Maple Leaf Mel], but as soon as the winner felt me she just took off again. She ran a great race,” Prat said.
Giddings said Maple Leaf Mel will now target the $500,000 Test, a seven-furlong sprint on August 5 at Saratoga Race Course that could provide retired Super Bowl-winning Head Coach Bill Parcells [August Dawn Farm] an elusive Grade 1 win.
“That would be the goal. I hope the whole group is there,” Giddings said. “In a way, we’re all part of the team. I’ve been texting Jeremiah all day about the filly and he wished me the best of luck. I wish he could have been here with me.”
Bred in the Empire State by Joe Fafone, Maple Leaf Mel is out of the City Place mare City Gift, and is a half-sister to stakes-placed New York-bred Eddie’s Gift. She banked $96,250 in victory, and returned $7.50 for a $2 win bet.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Belmont Park for Closing Day of the spring/summer meet before action moves upstate to Saratoga Race Course for the 40-day summer meet which begins on Thursday. First post on Sunday’s nine-race card is 12:30 p.m. Eastern.