A heartbreaking start to the month of October turned more pleasant for owners Robert and Lawana Low Oct. 9 at Keeneland when less than a week after losing one of their top horses, 2018 Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon, to laminitis, their promising 2-year-old filly Sweet Melania cruised to victory in the $200,000, Grade 2 JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes.
The victory in the 1 1/16-mile grass test – the last “Win and You’re In” Breeders' Cup Challenge qualifier this year – provided Sweet Melania with a guaranteed paid berth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita Park Nov. 1.
"Winning any kind of stakes race, a ‘Win and You're In’ stakes race, it's fantastic," Robert Low said. "We're looking forward to going to California."
Based on Sweet Melania's performance, she could go to the Breeders' Cup as one of the leading contenders. Aside from being aggressive passing the grandstand the first time, she was otherwise perfect. She spurted clear from favored Jezebel's Kitten down the backside with a half-mile split in :48.01, opened up on the second turn, and then quickened away from her 13 rivals to cross the wire 5 ½ lengths in front.
"As soon as I completely got the lead, she relaxed well and I cruised until the quarter pole," winning rider Jose Ortiz said. "When I asked her to go, she switched leads and gave me a great turn of foot."
On a good turf course, Sweet Melania finished in 1:43.13, the second-fastest time in the race's 29-year history behind Solvig's stakes record of 1:42.21 in 1999. She paid $8 as the 3-1 second betting choice.
Late-running fillies rallied to finish behind the winner, notably 45-1 longshot Witez, who closed from 12th to grab the runner-up spot, three-quarters of a length in front of third-place Ask Bailey.
"She overcame getting in a little traffic turning for home, but she came out of it and ran a big race," said Witez's jockey, Calvin Borel.
The 2.20-1 favorite Jezebel's Kitten, winner of the Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies Stakes at Kentucky Downs in August, faded to fourth after chasing the pace.
A daughter of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Sweet Melania won her first stakes Wednesday after finishing second in the Aug. 29 P. G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. She won a maiden race at Saratoga this summer in her third race for Todd Pletcher. The Lows purchased her for $600,000 as a Keeneland September yearling last fall.
The victory was the fourth in the Jessamine for Pletcher, who won with Ocean Drive in 2002, Paddy's Daisy in 2004, and J'ray in 2005. Pletcher is the winningest trainer of Keeneland stakes races with 55.