06/12/2008 11:00PM

Melancon reaches milestone


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Rider Larry Melancon was all smiles leaving Churchill Downs on Thursday, surrounded by friends, and carrying a placard honoring his 900th Churchill Downs victory, a feat accomplished by winning a third-level allowance aboard A. P. Xcellent.

He had reason to feel proud, knowing that only two riders, Pat Day (2,481) and Don Brumfield (925), have won 900 races at Churchill.

Melancon, 52, a native of Breaux Bridge, La., hopes to continue to add to that total, with no plans to retire in the immediate future.

"As long as I stay healthy and keep my weight, it's a good thing to keep me getting up in the mornings," he said.

He said notching his 900th local win aboard A. P. Xcellent was rewarding, especially since it came for trainer Niall O'Callaghan, one of his biggest supporters. Melancon won the 2001 Stephen Foster Handicap here aboard the O'Callaghan-trained Guided Tour.

According to Daily Racing Form statistics, the pair has combined to win 115 races together and more than $6.7 million, roughly a quarter of the earnings O'Callaghan's stable has amassed.

"Larry is one of those guys that doesn't want to ride the card - he's the kind you bring in on third down," O'Callaghan said. "He wants to ride good horses. And he wants to work and be involved."

Leading rider Robby Albarado, a friend of Melancon's, joined O'Callaghan and Melancon in a presentation after the race. O'Callaghan said Albarado jokingly needled he and Melancon about how they sometimes bicker like a married couple.

A. P. Xcellent's victory came in typical Melancon fashion: on the front end. He saved enough to turn back a challenge from Wise River as A. P. Xcellent, favored at 3-5, pulled away by two lengths.

O'Callaghan has bigger tests this summer targeted for A. P. Xcellent, who ran second to Lava Man in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup last summer when trained by John Shirreffs. The Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Handicap, a 1 1/2-mile turf race at Arlington on July 4, is being considered for his next race.

Winning Colors filly wins debut

Ocean Colors, the second-to-last foal out of Winning Colors, winner of the 1988 Kentucky Derby, won her career debut Friday, leading from start to finish under Shaun Bridgmohan in the fourth race, for maiden 2-year-old fillies. Owned by Gainesway Thoroughbreds and trained by Steve Asmussen, she raced five furlongs in 57.08 seconds, paying $5.

Winning Colors, one of only three fillies to win the Derby, was euthanized in February following complications from colic.

Raving Rocket extends winning streak to 11

Raving Rocket ($2.80) won his 11th consecutive race in Thursday's opener, beating Moment of Song by a length in a starter allowance.

Albarado rode Raving Rocket, a 6-year-old Lil's Lad gelding owned by Louis O'Brien and trained by Ralph Martinez.

Super Hi-Five pays record $66,598

In contrast to the opener, the final race of the day produced an eye-opening payoff. One player won the Super Hi-Five, which requires a bettor to pick the top five finishers in order, and the wager returned a record $66,598.20.

That payoff surpassed the previous record of $35,179.30, established June 1.

Somewhat surprisingly, considering the top five finishers were all less than 15-1 odds, there was just one winning ticket, which came from Southern California.

Crowd Diva won the race, a $30,000 maiden claimer, at 6-1 odds, and was followed by favored Saintsgomarchingin at 2-1, Lynx of Gold at 14-1, Pish Posh at 5-1, and Cactus Kitty at 14-1.

Little turf form in Sunday feature

Sunday's nominal feature is an entry-level allowance (race 9), scheduled for five furlongs on turf, that drew 12 runners. Just four horses have raced on grass, and only two, The Elevator and Rock Gold, are winners on grass.

Rock Gold, winless in 10 straight allowance races following a $32,500 claiming triumph on turf at Arlington last August, has a good chance to return to the winner's circle. Fourth in a mile turf race at Churchill on May 17, he should appreciate a cutback in distance.

He ran second twice in turf sprints last winter at Fair Grounds, earning Beyer Speed Figures of 89 and 91, numbers that suggest he is the fastest turf horse in the race.