Story – Courtesy of the Te Akau Racing Webite
Last Saturday, in the $250,000 BRC Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr. 2, 1400m) at Eagle Farm racecourse in Brisbane, Melody Belle (2 f Commands – Meleka Belle, by Iffraaj) obliterated her rivals by nearly five lengths.
Trained by Stephen Autridge & Jamie Richards at Matamata, for the Fortuna Melody Belle Syndicate (Mgr: John Galvin), she was purchased for $57,500 by David Ellis, from the draft of Haunui Farm, at the 2016 New Zealand Bloodstock Premier Yearling Sale.
Having already won the Karaka Million (Listed, 1200m) in January at Ellerslie, and Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr. 1, 1400m) on 1 April at Awapuni, furthering her record to four wins from six starts, Melody Belle has won her owners $879,203 in prize money, and now favourite ($2.80) for the $600,000 J. J. Atkins (Gr. 1, 1600m) on 10 June.
Virtually assured of becoming NZ Champion Two-Year-Old, a scratch beneath the surface reveals that Melody Belle stems from the famous Belle family: one of the iconic families in the history of New Zealand racing, which has enjoyed enormous success with fillies in particular.
Marie Leicester, who bred Melody Belle, provides an interesting insight into a family started by her parents, James & Annie Sarten, in 1939:
“She’s the second Melody Belle,” Leicester said. “Mum raced the other one [by Taipan II] and she raced particularly well too, so it must be a good name. She won the Te Aroha Breeders’ Stakes in 1975, when it was in its infancy.
“Belle Fox was the first one that mum and dad bred and she was born in ’39. She had two fillies. One was called Belle Time, by Summertime, and the other was Belle Rosa, by Instinct. Dad gave mum Belle Rosa and he kept Belle Time.
“Within our family, we’ve always said ‘Mum’s family and Dad’s family’. They’re all the one family, but we go back to those two mares all the time – the two daughters of Belle Fox. The older Melody Belle came from Mum’s line, the Belle Rosa line, and this one comes from Dad’s one, the Belle Time line.
“She (latest Melody Belle) traces back to Honey Belle, who was a very good mare. She won the Foal Stakes when it used to be on New Year’s Day at Ellerslie, the Wellington Guineas, and the George Adams Handicap at Flemington, in the late 60s,” she said.
The grand-dam of Melody Belle, Empress Belle (Sir Tristram), left Tsarina Belle (Stravinsky), a half-sister to Meleka Belle, who finished third in the 1000 Guineas and second in the Champagne Stakes as a two-year-old.
“Meleka Belle and Tsarina Belle are both beautiful looking mares,” Leicester said. “Meleka Belle is from the first crop of Iffraaj and it was because we have the mares at Haunui Farm, and she was a young mare, that we decided to use a first season sire. Meleka Belle won at Taupo, of all places, when I was (Club) President there. She won at the same meeting as Fix (Iffraaj) won, and they were both three-year-olds.
“Melody Belle is her first foal. I sold an O’Reilly filly out of her last year ($100,000). She’s now got a particularly lovely and very correct weanling filly by Not A Single Doubt, which I’m not sure whether I’ll sell or keep, and in foal to Tavistock.”
Regarding the mating of Meleka Belle to Commands, to produce Melody Belle, Leicester said: “I’d always wanted to send a mare to Commands, and every time I saw him in Australia I’d fall in love with him a bit more. I loved his pedigree and everything about him. I thought Meleka Belle was the ideal mare to go to him, and Commands actually died before Melody (Belle) was born”.
“You get fixations about stallions, and with Commands it was (Sir) Patrick’s family on the dam side and Danehill on the other side, so why would you not want to send a mare to him?
“It was a mating I’d always wanted to do, but felt I needed the right mare and thought Meleka (Belle) was the right mare.
“With the mating, I make up my mind where I want to send mares and then discuss with Mark Chitty (Haunui Farm) and we seldom disagree. Then we do a follow-up with a Brain International Limited rating. The Commands – Meleka Belle rating was very good. Anything under 200 is very good and they start off at 100. I think she was about 150.
“She (Melody Belle) has brought tremendous joy to me and her wins have been a real thrill. Even though you sell them, you still see them as your babies and no matter where they go you follow them intently.
“She blew me away on Saturday, as she did when she won the Sires’ at Awapuni. She seems to be able to jump, get a position, and relax, and find another gear when she turns for home. She’s very professional and I couldn’t get over when she came back into the birdcage like an old hack, just so relaxed – as if to say that race is over, what’s next? And her being so relaxed really thrilled me.
“She’s exciting and just seems to do it so easily, and she doesn’t seem to worry what the track is like. That takes me back to Tri Belle, Star Belle and Honey Belle. They could go through it (ground) if it was wet and loose, but not if it was gluey. None of the family could deal with drying, sticky, tracks.
“They say she’s a tough little girl; well most of the Belle fillies are tough. They’ve got that toughness in them and that determination. She’s a good workmanlike filly and tough. They take a fair bit of work and they just seem to relish it.
“The Belle family seems to keep popping up and they give us great joy, and I’m very, very proud of them, but Melody Belle looks to be very good. I could not believe what she did. She just put paid to them. She’s won her last three races, has had virtually a two-month gap between each one and to do that it takes a good horse and it also takes a good trainer.”
Main pic – Melody Belle as a Karaka yearling