04/20/2007 12:00AM

Melair next step in Swiss Diva's saga

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Owning and breeding a stakes-caliber filly can lead to admiration from other horsemen. Just ask Rick Waller. In the last few months, he and his wife, Sharon, have watched Swiss Diva develop from a maiden claimer to a stakes winner.

"I thought there must be something going on," Waller said. "People know my name around the track."

The Wallers are hoping that Swiss Diva can remain the center of attention when she starts in the $200,000 Melair Stakes at Hollywood Park on April 29.

Swiss Diva has won 3 of 5 starts and $137,340. After winning a claiming race for California-bred maiden fillies in her debut last October, she won two more starts at 2 - a seven-furlong starter allowance at Hollywood and an easy win in the $138,750 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for statebreds at seven furlongs on Dec. 29 at Santa Anita.

This year, she is winless in two starts, but has not been embarrassed. She finished fifth behind Rags to Riches in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes at a mile on Feb. 10 after racing near the front for the first six furlongs. Rags to Riches later won the Santa Anita Oaks and is a heavy favorite in the Kentucky Oaks on May 4.

Swiss Diva returned to finish second in a field of four 3-year-old fillies in the Grade 3 Santa Paula on April 1.

The Melair is restricted to California-bred 3-year-old fillies. If Swiss Diva wins, it would be the biggest prize the Wallers have won.

"We've waited a long time for a horse like this," said Rick Waller, an insurance executive. "It's the pride of the accomplishment. For her, we get to look at the stakes book to find a race and not the condition book."

The Wallers bred Swiss Diva, who is by top California stallion Swiss Yodeler and out of One Stop, who was stakes-placed.

One Stop, 14, was acquired privately after she failed to meet her reserve at a Barretts sale a few years ago. Swiss Diva is by far her leading foal.

When he bought One Stop, Waller said, he was looking for a mare that had graded black type in the first two dams, had raced, and was out of a nationally ranked broodmare sire. One Stop met those criteria.

One Stop recently foaled a "143-pound Moscow Ballet colt," Rick Waller said. One Stop is the dam of a 2-year-old by Game Plan who is trained by Paddy Gallagher, as is Swiss Diva. One Stop has a yearling colt by Cee's Tizzy.

Following the foaling of the Moscow Ballet colt, One Stop developed colic and is being treated at UC-Davis. She is booked to be bred to Swiss Yodeler this year, but those plans are on hold until she fully recovers. There is a chance One Stop may not be bred this year.

The Wallers have been in racing for a decade, after former jockey Richard Beasley, Sharon Waller's brother, gave the Wallers a broodmare. Rick Waller studied breeding and conformation, the theories of breeding experts Federico Tesio and Leon Rasmussen, and said he learned about racing and breeding the hard way.

"It was not the cheapest way to get into the business," he said. "We probably foaled out about eight mares, just to get the experience."

Over time, he realized the broodmares needed professional care.

"You get more sophisticated and the mares need to be at the ranch," he said.

The Wallers keep mares at Harris Farms and River Edge Farms. Swiss Diva may someday reside at those farms as a broodmare.

"I think she has the capability of winning a graded stakes," Waller said. "She's been a real delight."