Mekong Melody, making her first start since last September, held off desperately closing favorite Ave by a nose to give trainer Roger Attfield the first two finishers in the $284,809 Dance Smartly Stakes (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) on the Woodbine turf July 18.
Ridden for the first time by Patrick Husbands, the 5-year-old Irish-bred mare took the lead from pacesetter First Circle in upper stretch and repelled a couple of challenges to post her first graded stakes win in North America at odds of nearly 6-1. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile test of older fillies of mares around one turn was a solid 1:46.09 over firm going.
Mekong Melody, a homebred owned by David C. Egan, was making her first start since winning the 1 1/2-mile Flaming Page Stakes over a yielding Woodbine turf Sept. 27. The daughter of Cape Cross has won four of five starts since last summer after transferring to Attfield's care from the British stable of Clive Cox.
Husbands placed Mekong Melody, who broke from the far outside in the field of seven, ahea of defending Dance Smartly winner Points of Grace and Gypsy's Warning just to the outside of the leader, 41-1 shot First Circle, who carved a sizzling half-mile in :46.27 and six furlongs in 1:09.15. Mekong Melody, just in front of the South African mare Gypsy's Warning, advanced on the outside on the turn and took over after dueling briefly with First Circle at the head of the lane.
Gypsy's Warning threatened on the outside but could not reach equal terms with Mekong Melody, who responded to urging to maintain a one-length advantage at the furlong mark. The Great Britain-bred Ave wound up her charge after racing in fifth on the turn as Husbands went to a left-handed whip on Mekong Melody. Ave, the 6-5 choice with John Velazquez aboard, gained ground steadily in a strong effort but just missed at the wire in a tight finish.
Assistant trainer Nancy Sullivan was confident Mekong Melody would be ready, even though it was her first start of 2010.
"It's Roger Attfield off the layoff, long on the grass. How could you worry? I'm sure he's thrilled," said Sullivan. "Patrick worked this horse a couple of times on the training turf. He was very confident he could get her to relax a little bit."
Based in the United Kingdom, owner David Egan was in Toronto for the race and was thrilled with the result.
"It's absolutely fabulous," said Egan. "It's a lot of fun. I look forward to keeping her and breeding from her. I have friends of mine here. They've watched all of her races. They're lucky charms. It's been great."
Ave, like her winning stablemate, began her career in Great Britain where she was trained by Michael Stoute. She was heavily backed off consecutive third-place finishes in the Gallorette Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Pimlico May 15 and the New York Stakes (gr. IIT) at Belmont Park June 19.
Points of Grace, who rallied gamely for Luis Contreras from just off the rail after being blocked briefly in upper stretch, nipped Magic Broomstick by a neck for third, one length behind the first two. Gypsy's Warning, the 125-pound top weight, was a neck farther back in fifth. First Circle trailed.
Mekong Melody earned $170,658 for her fifth lifetime win in 17 starts, boosting her career total to $360,720. The winning bay mare is out of Nini Princesse, by Niniski.
Sent off as the fourth choice, Mekong Melody carried 118 pounds and paid $13.90, $4.80, and $2.90. Ave, who shouldered 120, returned $2.80 and $2.10 and rounded out a $36.80 exacta. Points of Grace, under 122, was $3 to show in her second start of the year for trainer Malcolm Pierce.
Points of Grace won the Dance Smartly in front-running fashion last year by 2 1/4 lengths.