At a small gathering at Haunui Farm, Auckland branch member Marie Leicester was presented with the Arion Pedigrees Eight Carat Broodmare of the Year Award for her mare Meleka Belle.
The award criteria states that the winner shall be the mare whose New Zealand-bred and/or New Zealand conceived progeny, anywhere in the world, in the season under review, most clearly reflect true breeding merit in quality of racing performance.
Meleka Belle’s daughter Melody Belle certainly achieved that criteria.
Melody Belle’s (Commands [AUS]) achievements on the racetrack last season included three Group One victories in the history making Hawkes Bay Triple Crown, before a win in the Gr.1 VRC Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) and a second to Magic Wand in the Gr.1 McKinnon Stakes (2000m).
In the Autumn she was third in the Gr.1 Futurity Stakes (1400m) and the rich All Star Mile (1600m), before finishing fourth in the Gr.1 Doncaster Handicap (1600m).
Meleka Belle is also the dam of Exaltation (Not A Single Doubt[AUS]), a winner of two races from three starts.
Leicester went to Haunui Farm on the pretence of being filmed as a finalist for the award, however was presented with the winner’s trophy by NZTBA councillor Michelle Saba.
“I’m over the moon,” Leicester said with obvious emotion. “I have only ever dreamed of winning this award.
“I will treasure having the Eight Carat trophy in my house for the next year, it’s such an honour to receive this award, especially one named after such a great mare.
“When I got my first broodmare Dad told me that all I had to look forward to were disappointments and bills,” she said. “But this is just incredible, and I am so proud of Meleka and the whole Belle family.
“You have to suffer the lows to appreciate the highs, and this is certainly one of the highs and makes up for one of the big disappointments I had last week.”
Leicester was referring to the fact that she had lost both her dual Group Three winning mare Annie Higgins (O’Reilly-Diva Belle) and her Ocean Park foal, on what was her late father’s birthday. Annie Higgins was named after Leicester’s mother.
Leicester inherited her Belle family mares from her parents James and Annie Sarten, and it’s a legacy that will continue through her children Robert, Dianne and Maryanne. All her mares and their youngstock now board at Haunui Farm.
Leicester’s daughter Maryanne Robertson was on hand to witness the award ceremony having joined Leicester on her visit to Haunui Farm to see Meleka Belle who she raced with her mother and brother Robert.
“I don’t often get to see Meleka Belle as she is usually in Australia,” Robertson said. “But to choose this day to come and visit her was amazing.
“I’m so excited to be here to see Mum win this award, I can see it means so much to her.”
Leicester went on to describe the foundation of the family which has its roots in the late 1930’s when her parents were farming in Taranaki.
"Dad was only in his twenties then.” Leicester said. “He grazed the mares, weaned the foals, and one year he asked Mr Tremlett where he was sending the mares.
“Mr Tremlett said he had two colts on the ground and didn't know if he was going to mate the mare so said to Dad ‘you have looked after Belle Star for years, how about you use the mare?’
“So Dad sent the mare to Foxbridge, I have the receipt at home, he paid 37 pounds and the mare didn't get in foal, so he sent it back in 1938 and the mare foaled Belle Fox in 1939, the year we moved to the Waikato.”
Belle Fox had six foals, her second foal was the Railway Handicap winner Supreme Court and her third foal was Bella Rosa. That mating was selected by Annie Sarten and for the Sarten family, descendants from that line have become known as ‘Mum's family’ while the other descendants were known as ‘Dad's family’.
The next foal by Summertime (GB) was Belle Time and she was the dam of the Stakes winners Asgard, Honey Belle, Chiming and Son Of Cyrus, as well as 11 other foals, who between them won 91 races. This is the family of the current Melody Belle whose lineage traces back to Honey Belle.
The current Melody Belle is not the first of her name, the other (by Taipan II [USA]) won 10 races including the then Gr.3 New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes at Te Aroha, and went on to be the Grandam of the champion two-year-old Lord Ted.
That Melody Belle descends from the Bella Rosa line of Belle Fox, through her dam Belle of Ascot (Summertime[GB]- Bella Rosa) a full sister to probably the most famous member of the family the Champion mare, Star Belle.
Star Belle won a race at two and was the champion three-year-old of her year. In that season over six months she won 10 races from 18 starts including the New Zealand Oaks and the Great Northern and Wellington Derbys and finally the St Leger.
At four she won the Liston, Underwood and Craiglee Stakes in Melbourne, and she went on to have a successful stud career producing five winners including the successful sire Lord Waverley(Imposing[AUS]), and the dams of the champion filly Tri Belle and the Group One performer Wonder Dancer.
Other Group One descendants from 'Mum's family' include the Group One winners Aerosmith and Belle du Jour, plus dozens of other Stakes performers including Tennessee Belle, Goldschatz, Kazkah Belle, Mary Lavelle, Belle de Chine, Kreisler Magic, Postman’s Daughter and Annie Higgins
As for Meleka Belle, she is due to foal down to Snitzel (AUS) and will travel to Australia to be covered by Pierro (AUS).
Leicester has retained the yearling filly out of Meleka Belle by Not A Single Doubt and has also retained a Tavistock filly. Her two-year-old Tavistock colt is in work with Tony Pike after being purchased for $250,000 at Karaka.
"Dad always said never count the cost of the stallion,” Leicester said. “The foals all cost the same to raise no matter what they are by. If you like the mating go for it.
“So, I have tried to listen to him and mate my mares accordingly.
"If you look at Meleka Belle's pedigree, her dam line contains the blood of all the top stallions in New Zealand. Going back to Belle Fox who was by Foxbridge, Meleka Belle was out of Empress Belle who was by Sir Tristram, out of Imperial Belle who was by Sovereign Edition who was out of Honey Belle by Better Honey out of Belle Time who was by Summertime out of Belle Fox".
Leicester has continued with that philosophy and the ‘Belle Family’ looks to be one that will continue to influence the fabric of New Zealand racing for generations to come. -Michelle Saba, NZTBA