While much of America will be celebrating the Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day next weekend, the Nazareth, Pa.-based trainer will trade a “begorra!” for a “g’day mate!” She is one of two special invitees who will compete in the inaugural Great Southern Star weekend’s racing under saddle event in Melbourne, Australia.
Aside from Aussie riders, Melander has been invited to GSS Day by virtue of her Sept. 30 win in a $20,000 RUS event at The Red Mile in Lexington. It was America’s richest RUS race. Joining her as a special invitee will be Denmark’s Nicole Marsing, widely recognized as one of the top RUS riders in all of Scandinavia.
|USTA/Mark Hall photo|
|Jenny Melander will compete in the Great Southern Star weekend’s RUS event in Melbourne, Australia.|
Marsing was the winner of last year’s Swedish Monte Championship -- RUS is referred to as Monte in the rest of the world -- so her credentials are top-notch. Considering the status of her fellow Scandinavian, Jenny knows this invitation is a pretty big deal.
“I’m very honored, it’s unbelievable,” the personable Melander said. “I was so hoping it was going to happen, but you can only hope so much.
“The win at Kentucky was good in so many ways. It was good to have a great race in Kentucky because so many people were watching and so many people were getting excited about it. That’s great in trying to get the sport up. And obviously it helped in getting invited over there.”
Jenny came to America from Sweden in 1998 and earned a degree in elementary education with a 4.0 grade-point average from Rider University. With harness racing running through her blood, however, she has embarked on a career as a caretaker and trainer.
But the urge to ride was always there and RUS events seemed perfect for Melander because the race incorporates the rules of harness racing (no breaking strides) with no sulky and the rider sitting atop the horse.
“I’ve always been riding my entire life,” she said. “I trained Standardbreds under saddle as a kid in Sweden. Here I’ve been riding horses and training Standardbreds. I love to ride and I also really enjoy harness racing so it was kind of a good combination for me.”
Jenny has been pretty good in her brief riding career, copping two victories in four starts. The win in Kentucky caught the eye of Australia, thanks in part to Melander’s boyfriend.
“He’s from Australia,” she said. “Since we got started in this, he had some contacts down there and let them know. They were keeping an eye on me and I got an e-mail the week after I won to congratulate me.
“They e-mailed later to say if they were to get this together would I consider coming? I said ‘Absolutely.’ It just started spiraling from there.”
This will be the first Great Southern Star weekend and it is a big international weekend with numerous international horses. Jenny is leaving Sunday for the event, which has a series of seven legs and a final. It will mark the first time there will be betting on RUS racing in Australia.
“I’m supposed to ride a horse on the last day, which will be the 16th,” Melander said. “The horse they told me I’m riding has already qualified for the final. But they haven’t told me any more since then. I’ve been wondering why the girl who qualified with the horse wouldn’t want to ride her, so I’m not really sure yet, but that’s what they told me.”
Regardless of which horse she gets, Melander isn’t making her first trip to Australia just to enjoy some shrimp on the barbie.
“Of course I want to win,” she said with a laugh. “I’m in it to win it. But it’s going to be a good experience. I’m looking forward to the trip and everything else. They’re making it a great thing with an international cocktail party and things like that. It’s going to be an unbelievable experience. Hopefully I’ll get a horse that will be competitive.”
While Melander loves riding, she is working toward getting a driver’s license but doesn’t think she will do it too seriously.
“Maybe I’d do the women races, it would be more for fun,” she said. “If I had my choice, I would ride Monte races any day over driving. Unfortunately, the sport is not taking off that quickly over here.”
RUS racing was introduced to the U.S. in the 1980s, but diminished over time. Several years ago there was a half-mile race at Yonkers and last year it started catching on at Goshen, where Jenny won her first race.
“I’ve only competed here over the last year, and so far, so good,” she said. “I won a division at the first Monte race at Goshen with a North American saddle race record on a half -- 2:00.3. We think it could be a world record but we don’t have any proof, so we just say it’s a North American record.”
And while RUS racing has not taken hold in America, Melander feels it has the potential to. In fact, she feels it could be important to the industry, especially since the majority of riders are women.
“I absolutely think it can catch on,” she said. “We need something new here, we need something fresh. In a way it’s great because you can promote racing to a new group of people who come out and watch. There’s all the young girls and all the riding clubs...it’s a different kind of group of people who can come out and watch and enjoy it.
“Every race I go in, the public goes nuts, and everyone really enjoys it. The only thing everyone says is ‘It’s too bad we can’t bet on it.’ But in America they’re working hard to get that accomplished. It’s really a long-term project to change that law. Once we are able to bet on it, it will be a different ball game. It’s something the sport needs, something new, something fresh, something different.”
Having an ambassador like Jenny Melander touting the sport certainly doesn’t hurt.