MELANCON TO CLOSE OUT LONG CAREER SUNDAY – Larry Melancon began riding quarter horses when he was nine years old and got his jockey’s license to ride Thoroughbreds at age 16 in 1971.
On Sunday, five weeks shy of his 55th birthday, Melancon will saddle up one last time riding War Clan for longtime client Bill Mott.
"I had no idea that this would last this long,” Melancon said Friday morning. “I got to ride some good horses and those were the ones that kept you going and getting up in the mornings."
Melancon first came to Churchill Downs in 1974 and has won at least one race every meet since except for the three he did not ride – Fall 1974, Spring 1979 and Fall 1993 when he was sidelined by fractured ribs.
In all, Melancon has ridden 941 winners at Churchill Downs, third all time behind only Pat Day (2,482) and Calvin Borel (1,019). His 46 stakes wins at Churchill Downs rank fourth all time. For his career, Melancon has 2,857 victories with more than $60.6 million in purses.
Melancon, who has three winners this meet, rode in the Kentucky Derby four times, the first in 1976.
“I was on Amano, and he was third at the head of the stretch,” Melancon said of the James Padgett-trained runner who finished fourth in the field of eight. “The horse that ran third, Elocutionist, I told them they ought to go on to the Preakness because LeRoy (Jolley) was going to send Honest Pleasure after Bold Forbes and that’s what he did and Elocutionist ran by both of them.”
That was Melancon’s best Kentucky Derby finish as he wound up 14th on Bachelor Beau in 1986, 10th on Smilin Singin Sam in 1994 and 16th on Keats in 2001.
Melancon considers his biggest Churchill Downs victory the 2001 Stephen Foster Handicap, then a Grade II, on Guided Tour.
“He beat Captain Steve that day,” Melancon said. “It is kind of hard to pick one top horse that I rode here. I rode a horse named Rapid Gray and I also rode Weekend Surprise (dam of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy).”
“I won a stake for my mom with a Louisiana-bred named Kazliv,” Melancon said. “It was the Gentilly Stakes. I’ve got a few other tapes, but that would be the first one.”Melancon, who has only had 15 mounts this meet, plans on staying in the racing business somewhere down the road.
As for his immediate future, Melancon said, “I don’t know yet. I’m going to take a little time off and visit my grandson.”
DRIVING SNOW MAKES LONG-AWAITED RETURN IN FIRECRACKER – A few days before the 2008 Bourbon Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland, trainer Darrin Miller received a four-legged present from overseas named Driving Snow (GB).
The gray colt had won one of four races in Ireland and was purchased privately by Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton’s Silverton Hill Farm. One of 17 horses left in his wake in his maiden victory was Sea The Stars, who lost for the only time in a nine-race career that ended with European Horse of the Year honors in 2009.
“That’s a nice feather in his cap,” said Miller, who is preparing Driving Snow for his second U.S. comeback.
After finishing a fast-closing second to Bittel Road in the Bourbon, Driving Snow did not race again for nine months. In his lone 2009 start, Driving Snow won a stakes race at Indiana Downs.
“Between (age) two and three, it took awhile to get him right,” Miller said. “We were unable to get him started until July.”
Miller had hopes of making the Secretariat (GI) at Arlington with Driving Snow, but the colt fractured his left cannon bone in a workout after the Indiana victory and that took care of 2009.
Is it frustrating to go through all the issues with a colt with proven talent?
“Yes,” Miller said without hesitation. “He was out until February of this year and just trying to get him there (is a battle). But he has been good since he has come back and we targeted the Firecracker. It is the best spot for him in the way of timing.”
Freddie Lenclud will have the mount in Sunday’s Firecracker and break from post position one.
SECRET GYPSY BACK IN TOP FORM AFTER IOWA ROMP – Richland Hills and John Kuehl’s Secret Gypsy signaled her return to top form with a stylish 4 ¾-length victory Friday night in the six-furlong Saylorville Stakes at Prairie Meadows.
"“It seems like she is back,” a relieved trainer Ronny Werner said of the 5-year-old mare who has turned in two solid efforts following a string of four consecutive losses.
After winning the Distaff Handicap (GII) in March 2009 at Aqueduct, Secret Gypsy went into a tailspin with poor efforts in the Humana Distaff (GI) and the Finney on turf at Saratoga. This year did not start much better with a third-place finish in the Queen on March 27 at Turfway Park and a fifth-place finish at 1-2 odds in a stake at Indiana Downs on May 3.
“Physically, she was back, but not mentally,” Werner said.
Secret Gypsy got one more chance and made the most of it with a runner-up finish to Dubai Majesty in the Winning Colors (GIII) here on May 31. She used that as a springboard to the Iowa victory.
"“She has stepped up and run two good races,” Werner said. “I was really pleased with her second here to come back and beat Hot Dixie Chick, who is a nice filly, for second.”
Werner plans to send Secret Gypsy to join his string at Delaware Park on Tuesday with a couple of August options in mind.
“The plan right now is to run at Monmouth or Saratoga,” Werner said. “There are a couple of races there within a week of each other and it will be one spot or the other.”
The $150,000 Regret is scheduled for Aug. 1 at Monmouth and the $150,000 Honorable Miss (GII) is Aug. 8 at Saratoga. Both races are six furlongs.
BARN TALK – Calvin Borel, and Steve Asmussen moved a day closer to securing human titles for the Spring Meet that concludes Sunday.
Borel, seeking his first Spring Meet riding title, holds a 46-37 lead over Corey Lanerie after both riders notched two victories each Thursday. Borel is named on nine mounts on Friday night’s card, nine on Saturday and 10 on Sunday. Lanerie, who never has won a riding title here, is named on eight mounts Friday, 10 on Saturday and eight on Sunday.
Asmussen, seeking his third consecutive meet title, has a 22-16 edge on Dale Romans. Asmussen has five horses entered Friday, two on Saturday and five on Sunday. Romans has seven entrants Friday, three on Saturday and seven on Sunday. Tom Amoss, who also has 16 victories, has one more starter at the meet. …
Julien Leparoux wasted little time getting back to the winner’s circle, scoring on his first two mounts after being sidelined for more than six weeks by a back injury suffered at Pimlico on May 14. He got Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Class of Fifty Two ($3.60) up in the nick of time to win Thursday’s fifth race and took the sixth on Joseph Riccelli, Julie Levine and Eddie Kenneally’s Ticondero ($8.40).
Class of Fifty Two’s victory gave the Ramseys five winners for the meet and moved the couple within three victories of meet-leading owner Maggi Moss. The Ramseys, winners of the past five meet-leading owner titles and a record 16 overall (eight Spring and eight Fall), have four horses entered Friday, four on Saturday and six on Sunday. …
Friday night alert: Jockey Victor Lebron, who has ridden two winners on each of the first three “Downs After Dark” programs, is named on five mounts tonight. Lebron, who has ridden of nine of his 14 winners at the meet the past two weeks, plans to stay in the area this summer to ride mainly at Ellis Park and in Indiana and then ride the fall circuit at Turfway Park, Keeneland and back at Churchill Downs, which he hopes to use a springboard to a winter excursion to Gulfstream Park. …
Lewis Lakin’s Pure Clan, sidelined for two months because of a bruised left front foot, returned to trainer Bob Holthus’ barn and is scheduled to go to the track Saturday morning.
WORK TAB – Winning Colors (GIII) winner Dubai Majesty worked a half-mile before the renovation break over a fast track in :49.60 in preparation for next Saturday’s $350,000 Princess Rooney Handicap (GI) at Calder. … Decelerator, winner of the 2009 Debutante (GIII) worked three furlongs in :35.40, best of eight at the distance.