The human story goes on. Trainer Melanie Giddings, the namesake for the filly, still gets up in the morning; she has seven other horses to train. The empty stall where her beloved Mel was is marked by the blanket of white carnations intended for the Test Stakes winner, which in a happier ending would have been draped across the filly’s withers in triumph. Instead, it became a final tribute, offered by Pretty Mischievous’s trainer, Brendan Walsh, in honor of both the victory that should have been and the grief of his fellow trainer.
Unfortunately, the bloodlines Maple Leaf Mel embodied will not go on. Had tragedy not intervened, the filly would have become the third Grade 1 winner for her sire, the Unbridled’s Song horse Cross Traffic, who earlier this year was represented by Ashland Stakes winner Defining Purpose. The winner of the 2013 Whitney Stakes (USA-G1) at Saratoga, he begot Maple Leaf Mel from one of the mares presented to him in the spring following the championship season of his first Grade 1 winner, 2018 American champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk. The mare in question, City Gift (owned by Joe Fafone), had produced two previous winners, including restricted stakes-placed Eddie’s Gift (by El Corredor). Following the birth of Maple Leaf Mel, City Gift was sold on for US$4,000 through the 2021 Keeneland January mixed sale and has no further issue recorded since producing the Brody’s Cause colt she was carrying at the time of her sale.
A winner of two of her five starts, City Gift was sired by City Place, an unraced son of Storm Cat and 1997 Ashland Stakes (USA-G1) winner Glitter Woman, and was one of eight winners produced from For My Wife, a winning daughter of perennial leading Maryland sire Not for Love (by Mr. Prospector). A closely inbred mare, For My Wife was produced from unraced Heavens to Betsy, whose sire Miswaki (by Mr. Prospector) was a Group 1 winner as a juvenile in France before becoming a good sire and broodmare sire.
Produced from Group 3-placed Irish listed stakes winner Heaven’s Nook (by Great Above), Heavens to Betsy is a half sister to 1997 Gulfstream Park Breeders’ Cup Sprint Championship Handicap (USA-G3) winner Frisco (by Mt. Livermore) and to stakes winner Cherokee Heaven (by Cherokee Run). She is also a half sister to Please Me Please (by Hazaam), dam of 2009 Venezuelan champion 2-year-old male Rio Matiyure (by Chayim). Nonetheless, this female line has not come up with a horse of the apparent class of Maple Leaf Mel since the filly’s seventh dam, Dotted Line, a five-time stakes winner who had the temerity to take the first division of the 1959 Man o’ War Stakes from the likes of Bald Eagle (the following year’s American champion handicap male), Amerigo, Promised Land, and Inside Tract, all horses equivalent to modern Grade 1 winners. It may be long before it does so again, if ever.
No doubt the evidence will be combed over repeatedly as various experts attempt to discover why a seemingly happy, healthy filly cruising to an easy win broke down so horrifically on the biggest day of her life, and this after successfully passing strict safety protocols. Some will blame genetics. Some will blame conformation, or too much racing, or too infrequent racing. Some—many less expert than loud—will blame the sport itself. In the meantime, both grief and life go on for those who loved and cared for Maple Leaf Mel, now gone too soon.