Back in 2020, the big song of the summer was a pop hit called Watermelon Sugar by British singer Harry Styles. Meanwhile, at the breeding farm called Crawford Farms in Kentucky, some youngsters named a newly born filly after the big summer tune. The yearling Watermelon Sugar was entered into the Lexington sale that October. Owner Brian Rozell, of Queensbury, NY, was looking to buy a horse from the sale and specifically had his eye on acquiring a horse by the new sire Huntsville. Huntsville yearlings were very popular and some of the horses by him wound up going for some exorbitant prices. The filly Watermelon Sugar caught the eye of Rozell who wound up making the purchase for $35,000. He got the Huntsville yearling he sought after and the filly made her way to the Spa to the stable of Rozell’s trainer, longtime Saratoga staple Brian Cross.
Cross began the process that he’s gone through hundreds of times throughout his illustrious career. He broke Watermelon Sugar as a baby and last year as a two year old, she displayed some promise. Cross brought the young filly along slowly and although she had been coming along well, Brian discovered something was a bit off with the youngster. After some testing, a few minor physical issues were discovered with Watermelon Sugar. Nothing serious but enough following a brief bid on the comeback trail to have Cross suggest to Rozell that they turn the filly out for the season with an eye on bringing her back in 2022. That’s what they did and now several months later the move has proven to have worked out glowingly.
Watermelon Sugar debuted in early February with an average qualifier at the Spa. After all, she hadn’t ever been behind a starting gate in her life. The practice of schooling babies doesn’t take place at the track over the wintertime so when Watermelon Sugar lined up for her first qualifier, it was all new to her. The prep was a non-descript one for the filly who used the qualifier as another step in the educational process. She drew post six for her lifetime debut on opening week at the Spa during which the filly had a solid showing closing well to finish third while competing against maidens. Who would have been able to guess that that finish would wind up being the worst one to date for the Cross trainee some three months later? The luck of the draw remained against the three year old in the weeks that followed as Watermelon Sugar drew post six, eight and eight in her next three starts, respectively. Despite the unlucky draws, Cross saw his youngster put in a big time closing brush in each of those races to finish as the runner-up twice before breaking her maiden when she swooped the group from post eight on March 7th to score in 1:57.1. “What I liked about her right away was her ability to close. She was gapped out a couple of times but whenever I asked her, she paced up a storm. We found ourselves brushing from the back of the pack a lot there in her first month but she would always charge hard late in the mile regardless of how tough her trip was,” Cross told me. “I didn’t know what to expect right away because she didn’t have much experience. I knew she was pretty fast but honestly I had no idea she had in her what she’s shown ever since.”
After breaking her maiden from post eight, Watermelon Sugar tried the front end the following week. Cross said showing early speed for the first time came naturally to the filly who has been getting better and better in each and every start. Her race’s 1-9 favorite, Watermelon Sugar coasted to a wire-to-wire score in 1:56.1. Cross and Rozell then opted to bring their rising star to Yonkers to compete for a purse of $16,500 for the next two starts. The races simply served as continuations of what the filly had been doing in her recent Spa races. Watermelon Sugar outclosed her rivals in her Yonkers Raceway debut to score in 1:56.3 before returning to the front-end the following week and going coast-to-coast with driver Jim Marohn Jr. in the sulky. After winning four consecutive races, Cross decided to give his filly a few weeks off before returning to the Spa on April 19th.
Watermelon Sugar was riding a five race streak when she came back to her home track and had to step up in class. The filly quickly graduated into the winners of two but not more than five race lifetime condition where she’s competed for the last two weeks. The step up in company was met with as much ease and grace as we’ve seen from the start for Watermelon Sugar whose transition was seamless. The filly rattled off another pair of victories against the tougher competition after scoring impressively on Monday afternoon and doing so in a dazzling 1:54.2 to set a new lifetime mark. “She’s been easy to drive,” the veteran Cross told me. “You can do whatever you want with her. I wasn’t sure what kind of gear she would have if she was first over but this week but she showed us that. When I asked her, she took off.” She did indeed as moving her win streak to seven came despite getting a first over journey on the race’s big favorite. Her most recent victory came by a commanding seven length margin.
This Monday afternoon will mark the start of a shortened Virginia O’Brien Pacing Series for fillies and mares. With only a few entered into the series, it will have just one leg leading up to the Final. Watermelon Sugar is installed as an 8-5 morning line favorite as she drew post two for her try in the $10,000 race. Normally with stats like hers, a horse would be an even bigger favorite but the competition is fierce led by rival Alittlesidehustl N who is fresh off a career-best win in 1:53.4. What a race that should be leading up to the Final of the seventh annual O’Brien Pace.
As far as what the future holds for Watermelon Sugar post the O’Brien Series, well, Cross wasn’t exactly sure when we spoke about it but it will likely involve the New York Sire Stakes in some fashion. She could compete against the top fillies in the state although that competition is the fiercest of the fierce. Or maybe she’ll have a summer filled with Excelsior races for talented fillies that are one notch below the top three year olds in New York. Cross and company will make that decision in the coming weeks as the filly, who Brian says is a total pleasure to be around in the barn area with a lovable disposition, will ride an incredible seven race win streak into the Virginia O’Brien Pace while in the midst of a rookie campaign that has gotten off to a sensational start for a youngster who came into the season as an unassuming newbie and now looks like a star.
Live racing takes place every Saturday evening starting at 5PM and continues every Sunday and Monday afternoon beginning at Noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!