Heavy favorites Maple Leaf Mel, Andiamo a Firenze deliver Showcase victories

Friday, August 26th, 2022

Maple Leaf Mel returns 16 days after maiden victory to take Seeking the Ante to kick off Showcase Day. NYRA Photo.

By Paul Halloran

Jeremiah Englehart was struggling with how to break the news to Bill Parcells that he would not be at Saratoga Race Course August 10 for the debut of Parcells’ filly, Maple Leaf Mel.

“This is his locker room,” Englehart said of the Hall of Fame coach. “When I missed her run the first time, I was watching a Mets game with my kids. He said, ‘I could see myself telling Mr. (Wellington) Mara, I’m not going to be able to make the NFC Championship game this week because I gotta take my kids to a Mets game.’ ”

Parcells actually took the news in stride and it was all good when Maple Leaf Mel rolled to a 5-length win in the maiden special weight for New York-breds. It was even better Friday when the daughter of Cross Traffic made it 2-for-2 – this time with the trainer front and center – with a 3 1/2-length score in the slop in the $194,000 Seeking the Ante Stakes to kick off Saratoga Showcase Day.

“We knew she was a talented filly,” Englehart said. “She handled another test, coming back on short rest and she handled the off track. I thought Joel (Rosario) put her in a super spot. When you ask her, she goes.”

Maple Leaf Mel, who was bred by Joe Fafone and foaled at Waldorf Farm in North Chatham, is the fourth foal and now third multiple winner out of City Gift. She battled with Song Parody early Friday before taking the lead going down the backstretch of the 6 1/2-furlong stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Longshot Lady Mine took over second on the far turn and appeared as if she might pose a serious threat, but Rosario had plenty of horse left, something which was obvious to the astute Parcells.

“I know Joel pretty well,” Parcells said. “I’ve seen what he does and how he behaves. He’s worked the horse, he’s been on the horse. I knew he had horse left.”

Parcells, who celebrated his 81st birthday Monday, was pleased to be back in the Saratoga winner’s circle.

“It’s the best,” he said, when asked to compare winning a horse race with his myriad of gridiron accomplishments. “It’s nice to be my age and have something like this to get you as excited as this.”

Englehart said he was smitten when he saw Maple Leaf Mel, an $18,000 yearling at Keeneland last September, at the Fasig-Tipton Midtlantic May 2-year-olds in training sale.

“You want to have those horses that when they come out of the stall and they show them to you, you get stars in your eyes,” he said. “Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but she was one of those horse that gave you that good feeling.”

Robbie Medina, who buys a lot of horses for Parcells, and trainer George Weaver were all on board and they went to $150,000 to add her to Parcells’ August Dawn Farm roster.

They named her for Englehart’s assistant, Ontario native Melanie Giddings, which Englehart figured might give him a leg up in getting the horse into his barn. The plan worked and Maple Leaf Mel is doing her namesake, a Stage 4 cancer survivor, proud.

“I talked her into coming up here last year just to live again, to get going again,” Englehart said. “She probable hated me for it because it was a lot of work. We’re like brother and sister. You can have an argument but you still love ’em. I trust her more than anyone.”

After the impressive debut win, open company was a consideration for the second start, but the connections were looking for Maple Leaf Mel to get more of a stern test before taking that leap.

“The first race wasn’t a contest,” Parcells said. “We wanted her to be in a little better scuffle. We’ll talk about the next one.”

It will be yet another conversation with the coach that Englehart values, even if they are not all cordial.

“I tell anyone, you haven’t been yelled at until you’ve been yelled at by a two-time, Super Bowl-winning, Hall of Fame football coach,” he said. “I’m a better person for knowing him and being able to work with him. In the last four years of our friendship the life lessons I’ve gotten from him is like having another dad.”


Mr Amore Stable’s homebred Andiamo a Firenze rolls in Funny Cide

Andiamo a Firenze, a half brother to Grade 1 winner Firenze Fire, adds Funny Cide to growing resume Friday at Saratoga. NYRA Photo.

When you have horses coming into a state-bred race off an open stakes in which they were very competitive, the result is often predictable. That was the story of Friday’s $200,000 Funny Cide Stakes.

Andiamo a Firenze, a homebred younger brother of nine-time graded stakes winner and $2,730,350-earner Firenze Fire, rebounded from a third in the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes July 16 and rolled to an easy victory as the odds-on favorite in the race named for the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ.

“He ran great today,” said owner and breeder Ron Lombardi of Mr. Amore Stable. “The last race was a little disappointing. He got tired. Kelly got him back to where he needed to be and I think today he showed what he’s all about.”

Trainer Kelly Breen said the ability to run in a state-bred stakes race such a big purse was the perfect opportunity for the son of Speightstown and the fourth winning foal out of the Langfuhr mare My Every Wish.

“We increase our purse and get to run against New York-breds, so it’s a win-win for us,” Breen said. “This gives him great experience and is maybe a confidence booster. He did run hard the last time and he was tired after that race.”

I’m Wide Awake set a blistering pace, completing the first quarter-mile in :21.29. Belt Parkway tracked him in second and it is no coincidence that the pair finished fifth and sixth in the six-horse field. Irad Ortiz Jr. had Andiamo a Firenze a close third heading into the far turn of the 6 1/2-furlong race, took the lead as they straightened for home and the horse showed his class in winning by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:18.72.

“They went very fast, :21.1,” Lombardi said. “Irad knew he had the horse and when he asked him to go by, he put them away quite easily.”

If all goes well, Andiamo a Firenze will try to follow in his brother’s footsteps by winning the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes Oct. 1 in the Belmont at the Aqueduct fall meeting.

“We’ll celebrate today and hopefully he comes out of this well and the Champagne is in our  sights and we’ll move him forward,” Lombardi said.

Breen thinks his colt can build off of Friday’s performance.

“This is a great steppingstone,” he said. “The timing was great, everything about it. We nominated to the Hopeful as a back-up plan if this race didn’t fill. Today he ran fast early and just kept on going.”

Leave a Reply