Before Hollywood Park ran Saturday's $400,000 Silver Screen Handicap, escalating offers of $800,000, $1 million and $1.5 million hadn't been enough to tempt the owners of Melair to sell her.
"In the 1980s, it seems as though everything has its price," said John Sadler, who trains the silvery 3-year-old roan for Marianne Millard and Bea Rous. "But not for these two ladies. All they want to do is have a nice horse."
After the Silver Screen, Millard and Rous, two retired school teachers from Hemet, probably won't have to worry about many more temptations. Now, few people have enough money to make an offer for Melair.
This undefeated California-bred filly, thrust into a race against Snow Chief and 10 other colts, took a comfortable lead at the start, and Millard, Rous and Sadler never had a worry. Melair won the Silver Screen by 6 1/2 lengths over Southern Halo, running the mile in 1:32 4/5, which in addition to missing the world record by just three-fifths of a second was the fastest ever by a filly at this distance.
Snow Chief, winner of the Preakness and Jersey Derby in his last two starts and generally considered to be the best 3-year-old in the country, ran behind Melair much of the way, then had no finishing kick and ended up third, 11 lengths behind the winner.
For not laying an egg in front of 36,417 fans, Sadler compared her with one.
"She's like one of those eggs Malcolm Forbes would buy, the trainer said. "You know, the kind where there's only 14 like them in the world. She's an extraordinary horse, and this race proves that she's the best 3-year-old in the country."
The second choice behind 3-5 Snow Chief in the betting, Melair paid $5.80, $4 and $2.60 in winning her fifth straight race. The combined margin in the five is now 30 lengths.
Southern Halo, trained by Wayne Lukas, an old hand at sending out fillies to beat colts, paid $10.20 and $2.80, and Snow Chief returned $2.10.
Mel Stute, who trains Snow Chief, didn't use the inside post or weight as an excuse. Snow Chief broke from the No. 1 post, while Melair started from No. 12 on the outside. Snow Chief carried 127 pounds for the first time in his life, while Melair, even with jockey Pat Valenzuela's one-pound overweight, ran with only 115.
"The filly was just too fast, too furious for us," Stute said. "She ran a fantastic race. Everything was perfect for my horse until the three-eighths pole, but the filly just kept on running. We would have been second if we hadn't been on the inside, but we wouldn't have beat the filly. She was awesome."
Winning $220,000, Melair turned in incredible fractions of :22 1/5, :44 3/5, 1:08 and 1:19 4/5.
"I'm glad we made the right decision," Millard said in the winner's circle. The owners and Sadler had the choice of either facing Snow Chief and the other colts or running against fillies today in the $150,000 Hollywood Oaks at 1 1/8 miles, which would have been farther than Melair had ever run before.
Before the Silver Screen, Lukas applauded the decision to run the filly. "They've got all the reasons \o7 to\f7 run," he said. "The shorter distance, less weight, and the outside post position, coming out of that chute at a mile, that clinches it.
"You know what the worst position is for going a mile at this track? It's No. 1. The second worst? No. 2. The third worst? No. 3, and so on. The farther out you are in this kind of race, the better off you are."
Valenzuela, who rode Melair in her first three starts, then because of a suspension gave up the mount to Laffit Pincay for her win in the Princess Stakes, kept looking for challengers Saturday, but there weren't any.
"She's from another planet," Valenzuela said. "She was so relaxed today.
"I kept looking for Snow Chief or some other horse, and when I didn't see him, I put my stick away (after hitting Melair a few times). I really liked her for this race--I figured she'd already proved she could go a mile. And from the outside post, I knew I could do what I wanted with her."
Alex Solis, riding Snow Chief, reflected on what Lukas said about the inside post.
"It was very deep in there," Solis said. "But I was in a good position (just behind Melair) and my horse was running free. I came up to the filly, and when she saw me, she just ran off again. I came out of the gate to get a good position. My horse was giving a lot of pounds, a lot of weight."
But not enough weight, of course, to account for 11 lengths.
Like Snow Chief, Melair is a California-bred of modest breeding. Melair's dam, Melrose Nugget, is owned by Millard and Rous, who claimed her out of a race for $6,500, saw her win the next two races, then were forced to retire her because of an ankle injury. Melair is the result of a breeding between Debonair Roger, a stakes winner whose career was shortened by injury, and Melrose Nugget, who has also given them the stakes winner Rosie's K.T.