HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.– Robert and Lawana Low’s multiple graded-stakes winner Sweet Melania, without a victory in 18 months, swept past favored pacesetter Shift She in mid-stretch and pulled away to end her drought with a half-length triumph in Saturday’s $100,000 Suwannee River (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
Shifty She, exiting a front-running triumph in the Oct. 23 Noble Damsel (G3) at Belmont Park, broke sharply and went straight to the lead, opening a wide advantage as Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez settled Sweet Melania in second. Sweet Melania began to make up ground around the far turn and moved up to even terms once straightened for home before edging clear.
Shifty She held second over In a Hurry, with Irish-bred Keeper of Time third. The winning time was 1:34.19 over a firm turf course.
“The first time I rode her she broke well and I was trying to get her back. She was kind of keen and the other horse next to me was pushing the whole way, and she never really got to relax. Last time she relaxed a little bit behind a couple horses in front, so I thought maybe she wants to do that and have a better finish. Although she just got beat last time out, she ran a really good race. Today I was just trying to do the same thing, if I could get behind somebody. It was perfect. When I let her go, she responded right away. Obviously, the horse in front is a very tough horse to beat, but I didn’t want to let it be too easy. I got to her at the three-eighths pole and I knew I probably had her but on the other hand I don’t want to let her go too easy and get caught by somebody else from behind. It feels good to win a race like this,” commented Velazquez.
It was the first Suwannee River win for Velazquez and his 161st career stakes victory at Gulfstream Park, 11 behind fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey’s track record. Pletcher won the Suwannee River previously with Sandiva (2015), Channel Lady (2013) and Pico Teneriffe (2000).
The 73rd running of the one-mile Suwannee River for fillies and mares 3 and up on the grass was the first of five stakes, four graded, worth $650,000 in purses. It serves as a prep for the $500,000 Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) Jan. 29.
Other Pegasus Day prep races on the program were the $150,000 Harlan’s Holiday (G3) and $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G3), for the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) and $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), respectively.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher said the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf would be under consideration for Sweet Melania ($15.60), a 4-year-old daughter of 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah that won the 2019 Jessamine (G2) and, most recently, the Wonder Again (G3) in June 2020.
“She was super sharp coming into it. I loved the way she was training and she got a beautiful ride from Johnny. It was a good setup, and I thought she ran a good race. I felt like she had been rounding back into form and had some good performances and just didn’t quite get there. She did seem super sharp, and we were hoping for an improved performance,” Pletcher said.
Anthony Sciametta, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher (Sweet Melania) also remarked: “She was training good [at Palm Beach Downs]. The couple of months I was up there when she showed up from Kentucky, she was doing well. Todd gave her just a little break and fiddled with her a little bit when she first got down here, and then started cranking her up. She stayed pretty good because she ran great. Johnny said she’ll be forwardly placed. He thinks she’s better if she’s got a target or two to run at and it worked out perfect. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Gulfstream Park Press Release, Edited
Photo: Sweet Melania (Adam Coglianese)