08/03/2011 12:50PM

Filly looks to be coming up big


It had been about four years since Melody Conlon went down hard near the three-eighths pole at Hollywood Park trying to stay on board a wrong-way runaway. She fractured three cervical vertabrae for her trouble and underwent emergency surgery the next day, but after awhile she was back in the saddle, on a limited basis, getting the feel of the Thoroughbreds she trained.

Earlier this year, one of them was a slate gray daughter of Stormy Atlantic who was anything but the runt of the litter. Generous of leg and shoulder, the filly figured to be slow to evolve. But just to see where she stood, Conlon climbed aboard for a three-furlong breeze, moving off at about the same point on the track at Hollywood where she had been so badly injured.

Fortunately, the trainer had other things on her mind. The leggy filly was quick into gear and liquid in motion. Together they flew through three-eighths in 34 seconds and change, in company with another 2-year-old. When Conlon got the clocking, her first reaction was typical of any trainer protective of a precocious young horse:

“I wanted to fire the rider,” she said.

She didn’t, which is just as well, since training Mighty Caroline has been so much fun. At Del Mar on Tuesday morning, Conlon stood at her stall, peering up at the filly from beneath the brim of a Zenyatta ballcap, full of admiration and respect for what she could turn out to be.

“The fact that she’s got so much speed was a little surprising, since she does not have the big hind end of a sprinter, and she acts like she wants to run farther,” Conlon said. “We’re trying to teach her to rate, and in the morning we can get her to relax in behind horses. But once she gets everything going, you can’t really stop her.”

Mighty Caroline won her first race in June at Hollywood, attending the pace and under pressure from the start. Her winning margin was a nose. In the subsequent Landaluce Stakes, at six furlongs, she threw down a 45-second half-mile and ended up losing by half a length.

Conlon and her primary patron, John Liviakis, should get a pretty good line on where Mighty Caroline fits with the current California generation on Friday when she and seven other fillies mix it up in the $150,000 Sorrento Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track. There are very few weak spots in the field, although Mighty Caroline’s primary opposition should come from Killer Graces, who beat her that half-length in the Landaluce, and Heleonor Rugby, who has got a win over the track in the CTBA Stakes the first week of the meet.

After the Sorrento the pace heats up quickly, with only the Del Mar Debutante and Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita left standing between West Coast 2-year-old fillies and a shot at the Breeders’ Cup. Some pretty good names decorate the Del Mar part of the process over the past decade, including Stardom Bound, Sweet Catomine, Halfbridled, Wild Fit, and the ingenue version of Blind Luck, who was second in the 2009 Debutante.

So the bar is high going forward, the water gets deep with talent from powerful stables, and that just about exhausts this column’s daily ration of clich é d metaphors. Let’s just say Conlon, with her small stable and relatively low profile, will be in very tough. But she figured she had one definite advantage, and it was standing in front of her, nipping at a reporter’s notebook.

“Nothing seems to bother her,” Conlon said. “No amount of commotion. She handled both her races well, and she always eats up.”

Conlon, the daughter of real estate developer Hayden Hamilton and actress Paula Lane, was born in the Bay Area and raised in Los Angeles. Her father’s success afforded her the opportunity to play with the ponies – polo was her game of choice – and her mother’s career as a Marilyn Monroe lookalike provided endless entertainment.

“My mother is still alive, and I swear if Marilyn had lived my mom is what she would look like,” Conlon said.

If anyone doesn’t have a horse for Conlon to train, they might want her to raise their kids. She has four, and none of them figures to be a drag on the system. Her oldest daughter is a Ph.D. in cellular molecular biology. Her son graduated with a degree in chemistry and is working on his masters. Her second daughter just completed her degree in biology and is going to grad school, and her youngest daughter is still in college. NASA’s probably got their eye on her.

“And their mom’s in farming, basically,” Conlon said with a laugh. Mighty Caroline, named for the owner’s daughter, is among the first crop of Liviakis homebreds. His company, Liviakis Financial Communications, specializes in corporate shareholder communications and is based in the Northern California town of Mill Valley, where he was a considerable force in the Standardbed world before shifting his attention to Thoroughbreds and hiring Conlon. Mighty Caroline comes from the first crop of Liviakis homebreds.

“I saw her at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm in Kentucky as a weanling, and even then she was taller than her mother,” said Conlon, who trained Mighty Caroline’s dam, Mighty Renee, a daughter of Maria’s Mon who never made it to the races.

“I’m still amazed at how far along she’s come so fast,” Conlon said of Mighty Caroline. “I was convinced she wouldn’t run until the end of Del Mar at the earliest.”

Fair enough. But since the Debutante is on the last weekend of the meet, she still might.