Day At The Track

Mel Mara aspires to Franklin glory

02:24 PM 24 Jun 2017 NZST
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Mel Mara
Mel Mara has won 20 times in his career, with earnings of $733,964.
Foto Won Photo

Columbus, OH --- He is a harness racing world champion and one of the few horses to possess the distinction of besting Always B Miki and Sweet Lou, yet Mel Mara has not visited the winner’s circle for a stakes race since he captured the 2012 edition of the Ontario Sire Stakes Gold final at Flamboro Downs over that year’s Little Brown Jug winner Michael’s Power.

His connections are hoping this is the year the 8-year-old stallion collects his fair share of hardware beginning with a victory in his $35,000 Ben Franklin elimination on Saturday (June 24) at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.

“We have a different plan with him for this year,” said Robert Cooper, his co-owner. “We supplemented him to this very same race last year, but he already had a number of starts in him. We would like to space his races out a bit more throughout the year so we have a fresh horse. Right now he is a happy horse and Dylan (Davis, his trainer) is very happy with him. We think he’s coming into the race very well off his win in 1:48 at The Meadowlands last weekend.”

With his regular pilot Corey Callahan at the controls the son of Lis Mara-M L Revrac will commence his journey on Saturday evening in what should be the first of many 2017 stakes engagements. Mel Mara will leave from the rail in the third of three eliminations. He is the 2-1 morning line selection, but faces a field that includes the ever dangerous Rockin Ron (7-2, Yannick Gingras), Rock N' Roll World, who paced the swiftest mile of the season (1:48.3) at Hoosier Park (5-1, Brian Sears) and a potent horse-for-the course in Luck Be Withyou (3-1, George Napolitano Jr.).

“We know there are a lot of very nice pacers in this race,” Cooper said. “And not just in Mel’s elimination but all three of them. The difference this year is we don’t have Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit, so there is no clear leader in the division but with those kinds of horses in this race, we know we are going to have to be very fast to win.”

Mel Mara was privately purchased by Cooper and J&T Silva Stables in April 2016 from Brittany Farms and Riverview Racing. Prior to competing for his new connections, Mel Mara had amassed $468,364 from 51 trips to the post. Since switching barns, the stallion has earned $265,600 and his lifetime record now stands at 74-20-12-7. In just three starts this season, he is just a nose from being undefeated and has been visually impressive in all three of his miles.

“We gave him a nice long turnout over the winter down at Hunterton Farms in Kentucky with Steve Stewart,” Cooper said. “Steve does such a terrific job and Mel came back to us looking like a million bucks.”

There are several other differences for Mel Mara than when he was in the same position last year. In fact, 2016 marked the first full year of campaigning for him after a layoff of nearly 16 months and the stallion also struggled through some issues with his feet that certainly hampered his performances.

“He is absolutely sound and knock on wood his feet are perfect,” Davis said. “We are also going to ship him really early to Pocono so he will have some time to adjust. We are also going to race him more rather than train him all this year. Like he didn’t train hard this week and did a lot of swimming. That’s not because he’s not healthy, but he’s a hard horse for me to train. He just wants to go fast all the time and can be headstrong.

“That’s why I like to warm him up a couple of trips before each of his races. The first time he goes out and goofs around being a show-off. Then the second time he starts to settle down when he gets his mind on business.

“You can do anything you want with him in a race and he’s great to drive, but ideally we would like to have a prep race, if you want to call it that, before he goes into a stake so he’s not off for three weeks or so before, like he was at certain times last year. I just think that kind of program will work best for him.

“That is one of the advantages of having a smaller stable in that you can take all the time to find out what you need to do that works for the horse, what they like and they don’t like, and that’s what we are doing with Mel.”

The Davis family also spends many hours just lavishing affection on the horse.

“He just has so much personality,” Davis said. “My wife and my 6-year-old feed him bags of carrots every Sunday and he’s such a smart horse that you don’t hear a sound out of him when my six-month-old is around.

“Mel is the kind of horse that screams and hollers and tosses his head around to get attention. He wants people to look at him and it’s hard not to because he does have that personality. He’s also such a beautiful horse and when you look at other horses, then look at him, you see the difference.

“He is definitely spoiled, but he is the kind of horse that deserves it. I’m really looking forward to this year with him because he is such a happy, healthy horse right now.”

Like Davis, Cooper has a tremendous amount of faith in the stallion and is eagerly anticipating his appearance at Pocono Saturday night.

“I just want the horse to have the opportunity to really show himself,” Cooper said. “He’s had some tough luck in big races and has always went up against the best horses. Then he didn’t race for a year and a half.

“We think he deserves to win a race like the Franklin, the Haughton or the U.S. Pacing Championship. Sure Dylan and I would like to win those races too, but when I say this, it’s really about the horse. Mel is a world champion and he should have his picture taken in one or more of these races because of the kind of horse he is. We are hoping this is his year.”

For a look at all the entries for Saturday at Pocono, click here.

by Kim French, USTA Internet News Editor 

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