Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Stomach Cancer Can’t Keep Melen Down

“This isn’t a sad cancer story,” warned Steve Melen, part-owner of Horologist ahead of the filly’s upcoming engagement in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. “It’s about five different stories in one that started with the purchase of a racehorse.”

The trajectory of Melen’s life first shifted when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 stomach cancer in his late 30s. Melen went from having everything he’d wanted in life—a great job, a house on a hill, a newborn daughter, and a beautiful wife—to undergoing surgery to remove his stomach, spleen, and half of his pancreas, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Melen became addicted to the painkillers during his recovery. He required two stints in rehab to get back on track, but the multiple health issues eventually led to the breakdown of his first marriage. There were days Melen wasn’t sure where to turn.

He desperately needed something to be excited about again.

In 2011, two years after his initial diagnosis, Melen took a leap of faith and reached out to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer to inquire about racehorse ownership. Melen had traveled to the Kentucky Derby in 2006 with a friend who was a co-owner in the Hollendorfer-trained Derby contender Cause to Believe.

“I was kind of, well, not kind of down, I was really down,” Melen explained. “Racing was such an exciting, motivational thing, I just felt like I needed to be a part of it.”

A few weeks later, Melen got the call and agreed to purchase part of filly named Killer Graces. She broke her maiden in a stakes race in her second career start, and she wound up winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in December of her juvenile season.

Through Killer Graces and subsequent racehorses, Melen reconnected with his childhood sweetheart and later married her. The long-time financial advisor was able to step out of the office and work for his own clients from home, and he felt like his life really started to get back on track.

“Being a financial advisor was not a motivating factor for me to stay alive,” Melen admitted. “I used to have fun out drinking with friends, now I’ve been sober for 7 years so I’m not the party guy anymore. But these horses, these are exciting, and we all need that sort of exciting.”

Melen kept horses with Hollendorfer for seven years and expanded out to other ownership groups. He later hooked up with several other partners, including Bing Bush’s Abbondanza Racing for horses like the multiple graded stakes-placed Excellent Sunset and Motion Emotion.

“It’s expensive but I want to be part of it, and I still get excitement when I own 10 percent,” Melen said. “I’m really into it for the excitement, not for any financial return.”

Several years into his racing journey, Melen decided to write a book about the way the sport has impacted his life. Titled Killer Graces: My Path From Pain To Power And Breakthrough Living, the book is described as “a story of both weakness and strength as Steve navigates a world of pain, drugs, alcohol, marital problems, and anxiety, all rooted in his earliest days as a child of adoption. Join Steve on his journey of self-discovery as he shares that it took a life-threatening illness to bring these issues to light so the true healing process could begin.”

The book has only been out for a month but has already sold about 500 copies, and has been exclusively rated “5 stars” on Amazon.

“I wrote the book because I wanted to spread the positive energy,” Melen explained. “Horses sure sparked a lot of really good things in my life. Something about what I’m doing, the energy and the support, the horse racing and everything has given me life that is super unique, and I’ve got a very happy, awesome, loving situation.”

Of course, life without a stomach isn’t easy. He must give himself B12 shots once a month, since that vitamin is absorbed in the stomach, and meals are eaten in much smaller portions. Melen’s esophagus has significant scarring, and he was in the hospital as recently as last Friday to have it stretched so that he can breathe more easily.

His weight has also been difficult to maintain: Melen is 6’1”, but weighs just 135 lbs.

“My friends all call me a unicorn,” Melen said, laughing good-naturedly. “I should have been dead twice, maybe three times. I had a 12 to 14 percent chance of living, but here I am. I really believe that following the races has a lot to do with that.”

Over the past several months, Melen has been especially thrilled to follow the progress of Horologist. He leapt at the chance to buy into the graded stakes winner via Abbondanza in late 2019, and the 4-year-old daughter of Gemologist has added wins in the G3 Molly Pitcher and G2 Beldame to her resume this season. Now trained by Bill Mott, the filly also ran third in the G1 La Troienne at Churchill Downs two starts back.

Up next, Horologist will start in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland on Nov. 7. It will be Melen’s first starter in the Breeders’ Cup, and despite the challenges of COVID-19, the owner won’t miss the opportunity to watch the race live.

“The journey won’t be easy, but I’m not gonna miss out,” said Melen. “You think the COVID is gonna stop me from going to the Breeders’ Cup? I’ve cheated death already, so I’m going to the Breeders’ Cup this year!”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Stomach Cancer Can’t Keep Melen Down appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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