Wednesday, August 8, 2018
By Jennifer Morrison
(Photo caption) Melmich winning the Durham Cup (Grade 3) on September 30, 2017 at Woodbine Racetrack. Photo by Michael Burns
In 2012, more than a dozen yearlings from the third crop of 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Wilko were offered at the CTHS (Ontario) sale. One of them was Melmich, who has since gone on to amass lifetime earnings of $1.2 million and has finished in the top three of all his starts over 80% of the time. He was purchased in the sale for $4,000.
Warren LeBlanc, a long-time groom at Woodbine who was just getting his feet wet in horse ownership, remembers seeing the Adena Springs consignment at that 2012 sale. The son of Wilko grabbed his attention immediately, a diminutive fellow now known as Melmich, who went on to be one of the top older horses in the land in the last few years.
“I was kind of dragged to the barn to look at some horses,” said LeBlanc. “And when I saw this one colt, he just stood out to me.”
The chestnut youngster, bred by Andrew Stronach, was from the three-time winning mare Little Swoon, a daughter of You and I.
“I was looking for smaller horses with perfect conformation and looked athletic,” said LeBlanc. “I really thought he looked awesome.”
LeBlanc had bought his first yearling at the previous year’s CTHS sale, Mattangel, for $2,000 and had won some money.
“I had a partner who wanted to go in with me for a horse, so I decided to reinvest.”
Melmich did not make his career debut until his 3-year-old season but he won his maiden for $25,000 claiming in his fifth career start. The colt earned LeBlanc almost $30,000 before he was claimed for $12,500 in August of that first season of racing.
The horse’s new owners only raced Melmich twice before he was claimed again, this time for $20,000 by Stephen Chesney and Cory Hoffman.
“I remember when I first got him, and we started to train him, he wasn’t all that impressive,” said trainer Kevin Attard to a media scrum a year later. “He started to improve as we went along and five weeks later he won his first race for us.”
That was the fall of 2014 and by the time he went on a winter’s vacation, he had won twice for his new owners.
While Attard may have thought they had themselves a nice high claiming-allowance horse, it was soon evident the powerhouse with the big stretch run was simply getting better with each race.
As a 4-year-old, Melmich, who quickly became a favourite mount of champion jockey Eurico da Silva, won six of eight races including the Elgin Stakes for yearling sale graduates. He completed the season with a 10-length win in the Grade 3 Valedictory Stakes.
In 2016, his victories included the prestigious Grade 3 Dominion day Stakes on Canada Day as well as another edition of the Elgin. That fall, Melmich took Chesney and Hoffman to the Breeders’ Cup where the gelding finished a solid fourth in the Grade 2 Marathon.
Just last season Melmich rose to the top of the older horse distance ranks with a remarkable five-stakes winning streak including a nose victory over champion Are You Kidding Me in the Dominion Day. Had it not been for another CTHS sales grad, the legendary Pink Lloyd, Melmich would surely have been named the 2017 Sovereign Award winner for top older male.
“He tries each and every time,” said Attard. “He loves his mints. He’s happy to see you in the morning. He’s been really good to us and I think we appreciate each other.”
For the man who picked out Melmich from the CTHS sale, there is great pride and LeBlanc has continued to pick out some nice runners for bargain prices.
“There is nothing better than the yearling sale for me,” said LeBlanc. “For a small amount of money, it can get you into the business. I want to emphasize how good it can be with a partner or some friends; buy a horse and work your way into horse ownership that way.”