Trainer Rusty Arnold decided to stick with the tried and true in aiming Lady Melesi at Sunday afternoon’s renewal of the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap.
“When we sent Lady Melesi up to Sportsman’s for the Lady Hallie a couple of weeks ago (April 8),” Arnold said. “I worked her at Churchill Downs early on Saturday morning the day before the race, put her on the van, and sent her north. We had her bedded down at Sportsman’s by mid-afternoon. Next day, she went out and won the stakes. She’s a real smart filly, and she ships well.
“I decided to follow the same schedule for the Sixty Sails,” continued this friendly gentleman whose formal moniker is George R. Arnold II. “And Craig Perret will be back to ride her.”
Arnold, a 46-year-old Kentucky horseman, is no stranger to success in Sportsman’s Park stakes races. His public stable campaigns almost exclusively in Kentucky and New York, but the shrewd trainer has cherry-picked some nice ones here in Cicero, shipping in to win an Illinois Derby with Dignitas in 1992, a Sixty Sails with Top Secret in 1997, plus last year’s renewal of the National Jockey Club Oaks with Lorie Darling.
Lady Melesi is owned by G. Watts Humphrey Jr., who has been a client of Arnold’s “for 11 years,” the trainer said. It was for Humphrey that Arnold won a race so meaningful to him: the 1997 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland with Clear Mandate. From a distinguished line of Blue Grass state horsemen (his grandfather, James Russell, was broodmare foreman at famed Elmendorf Farm), Arnold was literally raised on the Keeneland backstretch. That made Clear Mandate’s effort in the prestigious Spinster a triumph to treasure.
Arnold has trained Lady Melesi, a daughter of 1993 Belmont Stakes winner Colonial Affair, from the beginning of her career. “She made one start at 2, going six furlongs,” he said, “and sprinted one more time early in her 3-year-old season.Then she broke her maiden at Keeneland going a mile and a sixteenth, and we’ve kept her out of sprints since then. Lady Melisi’s game is ‘the longer the better.’”
After a maiden and an allowance win, and two good runner-up efforts in stakes races (Churchill’s Dogwood, which she lost by a head, and the Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows, in which she was beaten a half-length), Lady Melesi wound up her 3-year-old season in July—and on the shelf. “She had a small fracture in her knee, which healed up fine,” said Arnold.
The proof that she was 100 percent became obvious on March 10 when Lady Melesi returned to action in the Supertrack Racing Series Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Despite coming off a layoff of almost eight months, Lady Melesi won that mile and a sixteenth event by more than four lengths, which was testimony both to her talent and to the skills of her trainer. To win any race off a layoff is a feat, but to win a stakes is a genuine achievement. “It’s a lot easier to do that when they have talent,” Arnold said with a laugh.
“We didn’t know what she’d be at 4,” he continued. “But that race really encouraged us. Lady Melesi won convincingly, and we started to try to plot her schedule for the year. We had no real plans for the season before that Gulfstream race. We looked at the Lady Hallie, which was also at a mile and a sixteenth, and thought the timing and the distance was right for us. She won that (in 1:42.86 setting a track record in the process) and now the timing is right for the Sixty Sails.”
Arnold reports that the retired Top Secret (who finished second in the 1998 Sixty Sails one year after winning the race) is at “Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky, where she has a yearling by A. P. Indy and a foal by Saint Ballado. She’s doing great—I just went to see her the other day.”
Asked to compare his Sixty Sails winner and his Sixty Sails hopeful, Arnold replied: “Top Secret was a lot more advanced when she won the race. She had won a graded stakes at 2 and the Monmouth Oaks at 3 and run second in the Spinster. She’d made more than a half-million before she ran in the Sixty Sails the first time.
“The Sixty Sails will be only Lady Melesi’s 10th career start. And while she’s won about a quarter of a million dollars, she’s behind Top Secret in experience.
“But talent-wise, I’m not sure there’s much difference between them. Lady Melesi may not be as fast as Top Secret was, but she’ll run farther. She should love the mile and an eighth on Sunday.”
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