by Keith McCalmont
Robert E. and Lawana L. Low's Sweet Melania made all the running with a sharp seasonal debut to capture Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Wonder Again, a one-mile event for sophomore fillies on the Widener turf course at Belmont Park.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the American Pharoah chestnut made the grade in October with a similarly striking performance in the Grade 2 Jessamine at Keeneland ahead of a third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November.
With regular pilot Jose Ortiz up, Sweet Melania broke alertly and immediately took command through an opening quarter-mile in 24.15 seconds with Antoinette pinned to her flank.
Sweet Melania maintained her position as the half eclipsed in 47.62, with Antoinette continuing to pester and Selflessly beginning a three-wide move around rivals. Ortiz and Sweet Melania cut the corner turning for home and continued to open up on her competition through a swift three-quarters in 1:10.99 en route to a dominant 1 ½-length score. She covered the mile in 1:34.23 on the firm Widener turf.
Pletcher said he was confident in Ortiz finding the right way to utilize Sweet Melania's abundant speed.
"Analyzing the race beforehand, it looked as though she had a pace advantage," said Pletcher. "We weren't going to put her on the lead, we felt that she would naturally get herself there. Jose did a nice job of hashing it out and she responded well."
Ortiz said he was impressed by how Sweet Melania finished up the winning effort.
"She relaxed well and we started picking it up little-by-little. At the three-sixteenths pole, she gave me a nice kick. She's a nice filly," said Ortiz, who captured this event last year with Cambier Parc.
Highland Glory, under Manny Franco, made a late run to earn place, a half-length in front of Antoinette. Speaktomeofsummer and Selflessly rounded out the order of finish.
"The pace was slower than I expected. I thought there was going to be more pace, but it is what it is," said Franco. "She ran good. I like her going further. The longer, the better for her. If you saw the gallop out, she passed everybody."
Bred in Kentucky by St. Elias Stables, the $600,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is out of the stakes-winning Discreet Cat mare Sweet N Discreet.
Sweet Melania banked $82,500 in victory while improving her record to 3-1-3 from seven starts. Sent to post as the 6-5 mutuel favorite, she returned $4.60 for a $2 win bet.
Saturday's stakes action at Belmont Park will culminate with the 152nd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes in Race 10 at 5:42 p.m. Eastern. The American Classic, contested as the first leg of the Triple Crown this year, will see a 10-horse field led by morning-line favorite Tiz the Law looking to become the first New York-bred to win the Belmont since 1882. NBC will have live coverage starting at 2:45 p.m.
NYRA Press Office
NYRA Press Office