By Jay Hovdey
History is replete with famous brother acts. Sometimes, genetic code translates all the way to the workplace.Mel & Warren sometime in the ’40s
The Wright brothers put their heads together and showed us how to fly. The stylish Brooks brothers taught gentlemen how to dress. The Gershwins led us in song, while the Marx brothers made us laugh. And then there were the Smothers brothers, who did a little bit of both.
In the world of Thoroughbred racing, where nurture and nature tend to run as an entry, a brother act should come as no surprise—especially to the folks back in Fort Wayne, the Indiana home of those two Stute boys, Warren and Mel. They may have been raised on a dairy farm, but they were horse crazy from the start. And they are horse crazy still, thriving survivors of everything the last half century has offered.
That is the way it has been in California for 50 years, with the Stute brothers constantly weaving their singular thread of history.
Fair question, though…how do you tell them apart? Here are a few tips from the uninitiated:
Mel is the gap-toothed gambler with the laid-back demeanor and the bankroll at the ready. If life were only a game of golf (not a bad idea to Mel), he would be a tap-in birdie.
Warren is the elder brother, wiser, of course, and set in his ways since, oh, about 1932.
Warren is the one that leads with his firm jaw, a hard-nosed soft touch who has precious little time for fools, mostly because he spends most of his time with his horses.
Mel is the one who had the profile in “The New Yorker,” back in April of 1986, while Warren is probably the only 80-year-old trainer who has both galloped his own runners and appeared on a British sporting telecast.A recent picture of Mel & Warren
Fortunately, those ways have always looked out first and foremost for the welfare of his animals and his patrons.
Mel is younger by five years, which gave him an excuse to feel overwhelmed by big brother’s shadow. He never needed that excuse, even though Warren was first to strike it rich in the business.
How first was he? Try 1951, when the 29-year-old Warren Stute trained the winner of the richest race in the United States – make that the world – Great Circle won the Santa Anita Maturity.
Then jump ahead 51 years (don’t bother to do the math) to the 2002 World Cup festival in the middle of the Dubai desert. There is Warren again, this time rocking a whole different house, the $1 million Godolphin Mile, with Grey Memo. Go ahead, just try to maintain that level of achievement for more than 50 years.
And while Warren is undoubtedly better known in the Middle East than his little brother, Mel is without dispute the King of Pomona, where he holds court each year during the races at Fairplex Park. He has been champion trainer there seven times.
Mel also has a steak sandwich named for him at the Top of the Fair Restaurant, not to mention a bar christened in his honor at Hollywood Park. He frequents them both. Warren, on the other hand, has yet to get his landmark, but give it time. He’s only 81.
Warren went back to Dubai with Grey Memo this year and nearly won the race again, which proves that big brother is a dedicated professional who will even flirt with the potential of bombing runs and terror strikes in order to bag a serious purse.
Still, it was Mel who survived the real ordeal back in 1986 when he sent out the favorite in America’s most tumultuous race, the Kentucky Derby.Mel & Warren as children
When Snow Chief lost, witnessed by millions, the Stute camp was crushed. Tears and recriminations flowed. But there at the center was Mel, calm as a greenside pond in the Churchill Downs twilight. He took a good look at his fearless colt, tossed a cigarette onto the backstretch gravel, and made everyone promise: “We’ll get ’em next time.”
They did, in the Preakness, then in the Jersey Derby, then the following year in the Strub Stakes, which just happened to be the same race Great Circle won when it was run under a different name.
That is the way it has been in California for 50 years, with the Stute brothers constantly weaving their singular thread of history. If it is not both of them sending out stakes winners, it is one or the other. They are impossible to dodge.
About the same time Mel was winning the Californian Stakes with First Balcony (1961), there was Warren coming along with Table Mate to win the Vanity Handicap (1963).
And while Warren was riding high with Snow Sporting, Figonero, and June Darling in 1969 and 1970, Mel was winning stakes like the Senorita and the Del Mar Oaks with Commissary, and getting ready to take Hollywood by storm with Telly’s Pop, California’s best 2-year-old of 1975.
In mid-1980’s, Mel had a magical season with champions Snow Chief and Brave Raj, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and Very Subtle, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Warren answered with stakes winners Rapaillon and My Favorite Moment.Warren with Betty Grable Santa Anita, 1951
And on and on, through the 1990’s with runners like Magical Maiden, College Town, Gum, Best Dress, and Funontherun, and into the 21st Century with Go Go, Miss Houdini, Buffythecenterfold, and Warren’s Whistle. Just for the record, Mel trains Warren’s Whistle.
Ask Mel to name the best trainer he has ever known, and he will say in a heartbeat, “My big brother.”
It is a tough heart, too, after going through a quadruple bypass more than two years ago.
Ask Warren the same question, and duck.
“Just look at what my brother has done with the kind of horses he’s had to work with all his life,” Warren said, that strong jaw leading the way. “It’s an absolute injustice that he is not in the Hall of Fame.”
In the end, the Stutes both would agree to give plenty of credit to their patrons. The handsome list includes Clement Hirsch, Travis Kerr, Ken Schiffer, Fritz Hawn, Howard Koch, Telly Savalas, David Brown, Dolly Green, Carl Grinstead, Ben Rochelle, and many others, all of them better off for their time in the game with the boys from Fort Wayne.
Enjoy this night of nights for Warren and Mel.
It is the right setting, sponsored by the California Thoroughbred Trainers association for the benefit of the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation. There will be speeches and laughter and highlights of two grand careers in the game. “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” could be the name of the affair, because the answer would be clear as an Indiana day.
You can find them in the winner’s circle.