Giddings takes over training duties for namesake Maple Leaf Mel
Jun 30, 2023
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Giddings takes over training duties for namesake Maple Leaf Mel

by NYRA Press Office

  • Giddings takes over training duties for namesake Maple Leaf Mel
  • Forte returns to work tab; Nest, Tapit Trice also breeze
  • Silver Knott breezes for G1 Belmont Derby Invitational
  • G1 Belmont Derby contender The Foxes and G1 Belmont Oaks Invitational chance Aspen Grove arrive from Europe

Melanie Giddings, the namesake of undefeated graded stakes winner Maple Leaf Mel, has taken over training duties of the likely favorite for next Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Victory Ride for sophomore fillies going 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont Park. 

Maple Leaf Mel has not raced since an effortless victory in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course which was her first graded effort as well as her first start outside of her native state of New York. 

The sophomore bay daughter of Cross Traffic previously defeated her Empire State-bred counterparts in the Seeking the Ante in August at Saratoga Race Course and the East View on March 24 at Aqueduct. 

Maple Leaf Mel is owned by retired Super Bowl-winning head coach Bill Parcells’ August Dawn Farm, and was previously trained by Jeremiah Englehart.

Giddings previously worked for Hall of Famers Mark Casse and Steve Asmussen as well as Al Stall, Jr. before spending roughly six years as Englehart’s assistant. She commenced her training career in January and has now won two races, both on June 21 at Presque Isle Downs with Fight and Ready She Is. 

“To me, it would be weird to not have Maple Leaf Mel in my barn. After having looked after her for so long, it would be more strange to not see her rather than to see her every day,” Giddings said. “Usually, when people name horses after people, it doesn’t turn out the way it’s turned out with her. I just hope we can continue to have success with her through the summer.”

Giddings, a native of Cobourg, Ontario, was based in South Florida when going out on her own, but moved her operation to Saratoga for the summer once business started picking up. 

“I started this winter with just a couple horses. I didn’t really plan on doing a whole lot, I just wanted a couple of my own,” Giddings said. “Then it turned out, I was getting a couple more, and a couple more and then I thought that I wanted to come up here. It’s a little bit nicer up here than South Florida for the summer.”

Giddings spoke high volumes of Parcells. 

“He’s a good, genuine person and he’s always wanting to help people. It’s just his nature,” Giddings said. “I don’t think anyone ever envisions naming a horse after somebody and it’s turning out to really be something. We want every horse to be something, but this just happened to be the one.”

Giddings described Maple Leaf Mel as, “different and quirky in her own little way.”

“She’s a nice filly to train, a high-spirited horse. She doesn’t go anywhere without the pony,” Giddings said. “She’s also highly intelligent. I feel like she’s matured a lot turning three. I just hope that she can progressively get better from there.”

Giddings said Maple Leaf Mel breezed a half-mile in 49.40 seconds with Shaun Bridgmohan up on Friday at Saratoga. 

“She’s just a good feeling horse. She was dragging Shaun to the wire in a nice work. She was bucking on the way back home and that’s just her,” Giddings said.

Despite already having her own barn, Giddings was still on hand for Maple Leaf Mel’s Miss Preakness conquest and expressed pride in the winning effort. 

“I was super proud of her. She had to run against a different group of horses for the first time that day,” Giddings recalled. “She had to ship from Florida to Pimlico. We shipped to New York to run and shipped her right back to Florida to train for her last race. There was a whole lot of excitement that day with walking up to the paddock with all the people cheering and clapping in the stands. It was a high intensity atmosphere and she handled herself well.”

Having worked for a handful of different trainers has given Giddings her own approach in terms of conditioning horses. 

“I feel like I just try to learn things all the time from anyone that’s around me,” Giddings said. “I’ve worked for some very good people that are very successful. I try to take little things here and there that have worked for them and maybe they are the kind of things that can work for me.”

Bred by Joe Fafone, Maple Leaf Mel is out of the dual winning City Place mare City Gift, who also produced the stakes-placed Eddie’s Gift.


Forte returns to work tab; Nest, Tapit Trice also breeze

Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Forteresumed serious business on Friday morning over the Belmont Park training track, working a half-mile in 50.40 for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. 

With exercise rider Hector Ramos aboard, Forte went to the training track following the 9:30 a.m. renovation break and breezed in company with graded stakes winner Major Dude, who is a probable contestant for next Friday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Manila at Belmont. The move was Forte’s first since finishing second in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 10. 

“We were just looking for an easy work back and I thought that was accomplished today,” said Pletcher’s Belmont-based assistant Byron Hughes. “I thought he was moving well within himself. He looked comfortable and happy. You couldn’t ask for anything more than that at this point.”

Forte won Gulfstream’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4 and Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1. He entered the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs as the morning-line favorite, but was scratched the morning of the race with a bruised foot. 

Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable’s Tapit Trice breezed a solo half-mile in 48.03 seconds over the training track Friday with exercise rider Fernando Rivera in the irons. The move was the Grade 1-winning millionaire son of Tapit’s second work since finishing third in the Belmont Stakes. 

“I thought he breezed really well,” Hughes said. “It was a good gallop out for him. He looked pretty sharp today and came out of the Belmont in good shape. He’s maybe a little sharper now this time of year than he was last year. But that’s what you see in these Tapits. It seems like the older they get, the sharper they get.” 

Tapit Trice won the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby on March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs and the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 8 at Keeneland en route to a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. 

Following Forte’s breeze, last year’s Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Nest took another step towards her 2023 debut, going five furlongs in 1:01.22 in company with Too Boss over the training track. Owned by Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House, Nest has consistently breezed over the training track since mid-May. 

“I think she’s progressed well with each breeze,” Hughes said. “She seems to be getting fitter and fitter and responds well to the breeze. With each breeze you can tell that she gets a little sharper every week."


Silver Knott breezes for G1 Belmont Derby Invitational

Godolphin's dual Group 3-winner Silver Knott, trained by Charlie Appleby, breezed five furlongs 1:00.04 Friday over the Belmont inner turf in preparation for next Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Derby Invitational, a 10-furlong test for sophomores.

Richie Mullen, who guided the Lope de Vega bay to a closing third-place finish last out in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Pennine Ridge here, said he was pleased with the work over the firm going.

"He went good. The turf track is riding well," Mullen said. "There's a great cover of grass and it's good, fast racing ground. There's no jar in it at all because there's a nice cover. For a Lope de Vega, you'd think he'd want a bit of ease in the ground but he actually doesn't handle it. He has tiny little feet and he handles fast conditions, so he's taking a liking to it."

Silver Knott was away last-of-7 in the Pennine Ridge, which provided the top-three finishers an automatic invite to the Belmont Derby Invitational. He saved ground in fifth position as the Irad Ortiz, Jr.-piloted Kalik set the tempo through splits of 24.69 seconds, 49.17 and 1:13.01 over the firm ground. Silver Knott was given his cue at the five-sixteenths and traveled four-wide at the top of the lane while making up good ground to finish to finish one length back of the victorious Kalik [1:47.85] and a head in arrears of runner-up Far Bridge.

"He didn't break badly, but just not as sharp as the local horses. He was two lengths further back from where you want to be," Mullen said. "Ideally, I'd be right behind Irad the last day, but you're just that stride below and it's one of those things where you have to sit there and hope that it happens for you. With him, when you're away that bit slow and you put the squeeze on him, he can get a bit gassy early on. I think the ideal thing is to get him to break and not necessarily be on the front end, but it's more of a benefit when they break and you can stick him where you want him."

Silver Knott breezed back three-eighths from the gate in 35.65 on June 14 over the main track and popped out of the gate again here on Wednesday.

"Every little bit helps and if we can iron out those little things it gives you a slight advantage," Mullen said. "He's come forward and hopefully that puts him in the mix. Obviously, this will be a little bit stronger field than the Pennine Ridge."

The probable field for the Belmont Derby includes Boppy O (Mark Casse), Far Bridge (Todd Pletcher), Kalik (Chad Brown), Mendelssohns March (Kenneth McPeek), Mondego (Christophe Clement), The Foxes (Andrew Balding) and Webslinger (Casse). Among the possible contenders are Cyber Ninja (Bill Mott) and Redistricting (Brown).

Others on the inner turf work tab Friday included nine horses that worked five-eighths from the barn of trainer Chad Brown, including In Italian, who went solo in 1:01.03. 

Belmont Derby possible Redistricting worked in company with Activist Investing in 1:01.12. Belmont Derby probable Kalik and Grade 3 Manila chance Belouni went together in 1:00.61.

Grade 1 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks hopeful Aspray and Royalty Interestwent together through five-eighths in 1:00.71, while McKulick and Virginia Joy went in company in 1:01.82. 

The Brown-trained Consumer Spending and Gina Romantica partnered up for a half-mile breeze in 50.07.

Trainer Christophe Clement sent out five horses to breeze a half-mile over the inner turf, including Soldier Rising and Amazing Grace who went together in 49.72; Belmont Derby contender Mondego worked with Messidor in 49.56; and Malavath worked solo in 49.06.

Brad Cox sent out Bubble Rock for a solo half-mile work in 48.57, while Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey sent out four solo half-mile workers in Allamericanbeauty [50.06], Dreams of Tomorrow [48.28], Personal Best[53.12] and Skims [46.98].


G1 Belmont Derby contender The Foxes and G1 Belmont Oaks Invitational chance Aspen Grove arrive from Europe

King Power Racing’s Group 2 Dante-winner The Foxes arrived at Belmont Park on Friday morning to prepare for next Saturday’s 10-furlong Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Derby Invitational for 3-year-olds. 

Trained by Andrew Balding, the Churchill bay was a neck winner of the 1 5/16-mile Dante on May 18 at York ahead of a last-out fifth in the 12-furlong Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 3.

“He's absolutely fine. He dragged me into the stable and dragged me to some food. He's chilled out now and seems really happy at the moment,” said Maddy O’Meara, traveling assistant for Balding. 

O’Meara said The Foxes, who shipped from England to Belgium before the flight to New York, should appreciate turning back in distance.

“It was a great effort in the Dante and sadly he just didn't stay in the Derby. Dropping him back in trip, he should go well,” O’Meara said.

Also arriving from overseas Friday was Glen Hill Farm’s Irish-homebred Aspen Grove, who is targeting next Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational.

Trained by James Stack, the Justify bay started her journey in Tipperary, Ireland, before flying out from Belgium. Aspen Grove captured the one-mile Group 3 Newtownanner Stud Irish EBF in August at the Curragh in rein to recently retired jockey Mark Enright.

Enright has traveled over to assist Aspen Grove as she prepares for her North American debut.

“She traveled over well and is very relaxed. She's happy,” Enright said.

Aspen Grove made her last two starts with Enright at the helm, finishing a good third in her seasonal debut in the one-mile Group 3 Cornelscourt in May at Leopardstown before an off-the-board effort in the one-mile Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas on May 28 at the Curragh over good ground.

“She ran very well first time up in Leopardstown this year on slow ground, but for some reason she just disappointed in the Guineas last time,” Enright said. “We'll just draw a line through that. I think the step up in trip will suit her. We're hopeful of a good run.”

Enright said Aspen Grove might appreciate firm footing in the Oaks.

“She won on what we call good ground back home which is quite fast, but she seems to be versatile ground wise. She should have no problem here,” Enright said.

Both The Foxes and Aspen Grove are eligible to clear quarantine on Sunday morning.

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