Stuck behind horses with nowhere to run, Sweet Whiskey finally found room at the top of the stretch on the way to a 2 ¾-length victory over stablemate Co Cola n the $100,000 Old Hat (G3) on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Owned by Alto Racing, Sweet Whiskey’s first career stakes win offered some consolation to trainer Todd Pletcher, who several hours earlier lost 9-year-old Caixa Eletronica in a freak training accident at Belmont Park.
“He’s a barn favorite,” Pletcher said of Caixa Eletronica, who 11 of 29 races, including seven stakes, since being claimed for $62,500 on behalf of owner Mike Repole out of an optional claiming allowance victory at Gulfstream Park on March 9, 2011. He was killed instantly after colliding with a loose horse early Saturday morning.
“To me he was everything that was good about the game,” Pletcher said. “You take a horse from a modest beginning and literally get to the pinnacle of racing. He showed up every time. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Making her 3-year-old debut, Sweet Whiskey overcame her post, the trip and a 3 ½-month layoff to give Pletcher his second consecutive win in the Old Hat, running six furlongs in 1:10.63 and returning $5.40 as the 8-5 favorite in a field of six.
“When I picked up the overnight and saw that she drew the one hole, I knew we were going to have to force our hand a little bit and make sure we leave there running,” Pletcher said. “She didn’t get a super break. She broke in a little bit and a couple horses from the outside got good starts and squeezed her out of there a little bit.
“She was kind of in a situation she hadn’t been in before, on the inside and in behind horses, and I thought she handled it really well. She took the dirt great and had plenty left when the time came.”
Jockey Javier Castellano was forced settle in behind Zensational Bunny and Milam, who alternated the lead through a quarter-mile in 22.71 seconds and a half in 45.82. Saving ground along the rail, Castellano shook the reins when an opening appeared turning for home, and galloped strongly to the wire.
“I had a beautiful trip,” Castellano said. “You know, she’s usually on top but today she broke a little inside. Instead of rushing her up I decided I wasn’t going to panic. I just relaxed and let her settle. She was fine. Then I found a hole around the quarter pole and she ran right to the lead after saving all the ground. It worked out great.”
Sweet Whiskey broke her maiden at Saratoga last August before running fourth as the favorite in the Spinaway (G1) 21 days later. She was second to then-unbeaten Miss Behaviour in the Matron (G2) on Sept. 29 in her last start at 2.
“We ran her back on a little bit of short rest from the maiden race to the Spinaway, and I think that backfired a little bit,” Pletcher said. “We’ll just have to see how she does and whether running back in the Forward Gal (G2, $200,000, Jan. 25) makes sense or not.”
Co Cola, in her graded stakes debut, took the lead at the top of the stretch before giving way to the winner, but finished well to be second, 4 ¾ lengths ahead of Aurelia’s Belle in third, followed under the wire by Zensational Bunny and Milam. Side Street broke down in the stretch and had to be put down. Jockey Jesus Castanon, unseated in the spill, was not injured.
“I thought (Co Cola) ran super,” Pletcher said. “At the top of the stretch, it looked like she might have the race. She had to lose a little bit of ground, but ran a big race.”