It may have taken a few years, but finally, at the ripe “old” age of five years, Melatonin is finally proving himself to be a serious racehorse.
This weekend, he surged to victory, capturing the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita, proving to the masses that his defeat of the highly regarded Effinex, in the Santa Anita Handicap, was no fluke.
With this win, trainer David Hofmans believes that his charge has proven that he belongs with the best in California.
“He’s shown that he’s legitimate, and that he belongs in that Grade I group,” Hofmans said.
Before this season, Melatonin was a bit of an underachiever, taking five starts to break his maiden. It was actually after his maiden victory that he was purchased by Tarabilla Farms, and transferred to Hofmans.
Shortly after that, Hofmans noticed something off about the gelding, saying that the son of Kodiak Kowboy began showing signs of “not being very coordinated.” Being on the safe side, Hofmans decided to have a blood test taken which came back positive for EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis).
EPM attacks the central nervous system and can be very difficult to diagnose. Unfortunately, if not caught, EPM can cause irreversible neurological damage. Fortunately for Melatonin, that was not the case, as Hofmans caught the disease early.
After the diagnosis, Hofmans could have treated him quickly and continued on in his training; however, he chose a different approach, an approach that could very well be the key to Melatonin’s present success.
“Instead of treating it and going on with him, which is what they usually do, I decided to take a different tact, to give him complete rest for at least eight months,” Hofmans said. “So, we treated him with the drug that they use to treat this, and we gave him the eight months, so that nature could help him along with it. It seemed to really work in his case.”
Indeed, it has worked, and now we are seeing the finished product of Hofmans’ patience and care. A horse that was slow to mature, but with the right guidance, has become a major force in the California handicap division, taking two the state’s three classic distance Grade I events (the Santa Anita Handicap & the Gold Cup at Santa Anita).
The next goal for Melatonin is to attempt to take the third of the classic Grade Is, the Pacific Classic. There he will meet heavyweights California Chrome and Beholder. It is a daunting task, one that his detractors don’t believe he will be up to, but Hofmans plans to give his charge the chance to prove them wrong.
“I don’t know,” said Hofmans when asked if he thought the gelding was ready to compete against California Chrome and Beholder. “The horses he beat the other day are pretty good horses. There were a couple Grade I horses in there, but, of course, they aren’t the caliber of Beholder or California Chrome, so we have to find out where we sit.”
Some believe that Melatonin is the second best older male racing in California, and Hofmans agrees with that belief.
“I would say they are probably right. I think he is right there under California Chrome. I mean who else is there to beat here?”
Hofmans has a point, as the only other two that could be capable of taking control of the California handicap division, Dortmund and Firing Line, have yet to even make their 2016 debuts.
Despite this belief, Hofmans has no false impressions about Melatonin. He believes that his charge is good, but that there is a question of just how good — a question that he is anxious to answer in the Pacific Classic.
Should Melatonin win or run well in the Pacific Classic, the next target would ideally be the Awesome Again Stakes, before taking a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Classic. However, neither Hofmans or owner Susan Osborne are in any rush to gain the limelight.
“Mrs. Osborne isn’t in a hurry to do anything. She hasn’t even put any pressure on me to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, or anything. She says just take care of the horse, we have a long, long career with him,” Hofmans said.
Let’s hope that last bit is true, as this sport could use more gutsy geldings like Melatonin giving us thrills and chills on the big stage. Who knows what he could become if allowed to keep developing — another Game On Dude or Lava Man perhaps?
The “slow and steady” approach has worked for Melatonin and he has rewarded Mrs. Osborne and David Hofmans for their patience and care in dividends. Will he continue to take them on the ride of a lifetime?
Only time will tell. Until then, Hofmans is content to sit back and savor the dream ride that Melatonin is taking him on.