Robert and Lawana Low’s multiple graded-stakes winner Sweet Melania, without a victory in 18 months, swept past favored pacesetter Shifty She in mid-stretch and pulled away to end her drought with a half-length triumph in the $100,000 Suwannee River Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 18.
The 73rd running of the one-mile Suwannee River 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.
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 who won the 2019 Jessamine Stakes (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,” Pletcher said. “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.”
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.
“The first time I rode her she broke well and I was trying to get her back,” Velazquez said. “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,” Velazquez continued. “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.”
Bred by St. Elias Stables, Sweet Melania earned her fourth win from 15 career starts and bolstered her career earnings to $571,210.
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).