Jimmy Toner has been saying for a while now that the $400,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) Oct. 15 at Keeneland—not the Breeders’ Cup—is the major year-end goal for star filly Winter Memories.
But in a national media teleconference Oct. 11 the trainer left the door open for a possible Breeders’ Cup appearance, if she runs well in Saturday’s QE II and comes out in good order. Which Breeders’ Cup race that might be remains a major question.
“Well, I think that remains to be seen,” Toner said. “If you look at it, the Filly & Mare Turf, you’ve got Stacelita. So do you run against her, or do you cut back (in distance) and you run the mile against Goldikova? Those are the kind of things I look at first because either race that you would run in is going to be very tough. So, that would be a tough option; a tough call right now.”
For now, Toner’s focus is on winning the QE II, which drew a field of eight 3-year-old fillies that will travel 1 1/8 miles on turf. Also in the field are grade I winners Nereid and Summer Soiree, as well as Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IIT) winner More Than Real. But all eyes will be on Phillips Racing Partnership’s homebred Winter Memories, the explosive filly who will be a heavy favorite by the 5:45 p.m. EDT post time.
The daughter of El Prado enters off her first career grade I victory, which came in electrifying fashion Sept. 17 in the Garden City when after being blocked in traffic she ran down the entire field in the final sixteenth of a mile to score by a neck at Belmont. It was the fourth graded stakes victory in five tries this season for the gray/roan filly. The first of those wins came in April when she got up by a neck to win the Appalachian (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland.
Winter Memories’ dam, Memories of Silver, won the QE II back in 1996. The Phillips family, which operates Darby Dan Farm near Lexington, won the QE II with Graceful Darby in 1987, the following year with Love You by Heart, and again in 1990 with Plenty of Grace. Toner teamed up with the Phillips family in 1993 to win the prestigious race with Tribulation, and then again in 1996 with Memories of Silver.
“I think they are two different types of fillies,” Toner said when asked to compare mother and daughter. “Memories of Silver was smaller, athletic, very quick, and was fearless. And I think the difference between her and (Winter Memories) is basically, this filly is a bigger, stronger filly who needs room to run. So that’s separates them both, but they both have the ability and character to perform at a high level.”
Javier Castellano, who rode Winter Memories for the first time in the Garden City, will be aboard once again. They will break from post 3.
The one that Winter Memories will likely have to catch is Team Valor International’s Sumer Soiree. The front-running daughter of War Front has won four of five starts this year by a combined 29 1/2 lengths. The last two wins came in her first tries on turf, the June 28 Boiling Springs (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth Park when romping by 8 1/2 lengths, and the Aug. 20 Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) when she held on by a half-length going 1 1/8 miles.
Ramon Dominguez will ride Summer Soiree for Graham Motion.
“I am not crazy about taking on (Winter Memories), to be honest," Motion said. “I wish she wasn’t in there but it’s a grade I. I think my filly is one of the fastest fillies I’ve ever had. She’s doing great. So, if ever there was a time to do it, this is the time.”
Motion won this race in 2003 with Film Maker.
Also back from the Del Mar Oaks is Nereid, who was a half-length shy of winning her second consecutive grade I race, and Star Billing, who was only a nose back in third. Both are trained by John Shirreffs.
Nereid has won three of her four starts in 2011. The daughter of Rock Hard Ten proved that she could go the distance by taking the 1 1/4-mile American Oaks (gr. IT) July 16 at Hollywood Park. Joe Talamo will ride for Shirreffs, who sent out Harmonious to win this race last year.
Bobby Flay’s More Than Real was only 1 3/4 lengths back of Winter Memories in the Garden City, but is still looking for her first win of the season in her fourth try. The Todd Pletcher trained filly defeated Winter Memories by two lengths in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall at Churchill Downs.
$400,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT, Race 9, 5:45 p.m.), 3YO Fillies, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Star Billing (KY), V Espinoza, 121, J A Shirreffs
2. Together (IRE), C O'Donoghue, 121, A P O'Brien
3. Winter Memories (KY), J Castellano, 121, J J Toner
4. Marketing Mix (ON), G K Gomez, 121, T F Proctor
5. Nereid (KY), J Talamo, 121, J A Shirreffs
6. More Than Real (KY), C S Nakatani, 121, T A Pletcher
7. Kathmanblu (KY), J R Leparoux, 121, K G McPeek
8. Summer Soiree (KY), R A Dominguez, 121, H G Motion