With an eye-catching burst down the middle of Saratoga's inner turf course, odds-on choice Winter Memories reminded many of her dam, Memories of Silver, in winning the $150,000 Lake George Stakes (gr. IIT) July 27 (VIDEO).
Memories of Silver, a multiple grade I winner by Silver Hawk, won the 1996 Lake George. Her 3-year-old daughter Winter Memories is her eighth foal and the best one so far. By El Prado, the striking gray/roan filly has won five of her six lifetime starts and is three-for-three in 2011, all in graded stakes.
Winter Memories is part of the Darby Dan Farm dynasty. She is managed by Darby Dan owner John Phillips for the Phillips Racing Partnership, which also bred her. She is trained by Jimmy Toner, who conditioned Memories of Silver as well.
Ridden by Jose Lezcano at 3-5 odds, Winter Memories, racing at the back of the six-horse field, overcame trouble leaving the final bend to register an emphatic 4 1/2-length score in the Lake George while geared down late. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile distance was 1:41.57 over a course labeled "good."
Bellamy Star took command in the stretch for Ramon Dominguez but was no match for the winner in the final sixteenth and settled for second. The runner-up finished one length in front of More Than Real, who handed Winter Memories her only loss in a big upset in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IIT).
Toner said he was concerned that Winter Memories wasn't on her game when she broke slowly.
"Usually she’s tugging at him a little bit more and today she didn’t seem like she was tugging at him at all; she was just totally relaxed," Toner said. "When he (Lezcano) picked her up and asked her to run, she just accelerated and took off.
"I’m very happy with the performance and the way she handled herself. I couldn’t be happier," he added.
Toner said it is special to have Winter Memories in his barn after training her dam.
"They showed the rerun of her mother winning this race, 15 years ago it was, and that was one of the most daring performances by a horse," he said. "Jerry Bailey literally put her nose in between two horses and she split the horses, she made them split, and went on and won. Two totally different horses, but to see the daughter do it and the mother do it …"
Toner said the Woodford Reserve Lake Placid Stakes (gr. IIT) at nine furlongs Aug. 21 at Saratoga is next on the schedule for Winter Memories.
"Our main goal has always been the Queen Elizabeth (gr. IT) at Keeneland," he said. "Her mother won the Queen Elizabeth and we’re hoping to do the same thing."
Winter Memories, breaking slowly, raced in unhurried fashion in last for the first six furlongs as Sunlight Sonata showed the way through quarter-mile splits of :23.15, :47.47, and 1:11.86.
Bellamy Star, tracking the leader in second after tugging at Dominguez early in the race, increased the pressure on the final turn and took the lead when asked for more in upper stretch. Lezcano, making a bid on Winter Memories from the rear, attempted to take the filly through on the inside but had to steady off heels. Winter Memories lost her momentum at that point but quickly found her best stride after being angled out four paths wide for the drive.
She swept past the entire field, including Bellamy Star, who had opened up a clear advantage at mid-stretch, and won under a vigorous hand ride, drawing off before being eased up in the final strides.
“Sometimes in a race you would have to fight with her but today she was very professional," Lezcano said. "When I asked her, she took off like she was coming out of the gate! Once I got her to the outside, she galloped. I think she can still get even better, but the way she ran today was very impressive.”
Winter Memories, who boosted her career earnings to $540,600, was coming off a three-length tally in the Sands Point Stakes (gr. IIT) May 30 at Belmont Park. She began her season in Keeneland's Appalachian Stakes (gr. IIIT) with a neck victory April 21.
In 2010, Winter Memories broke her maiden at first asking at Saratoga last September and then romped by 5 1/4 lengths on a yielding Belmont turf in the Miss Grillo Stakes (gr. IIIT). Sent off as the 11-10 choice in the Breeders' Cup, she was unable to overcome traffic problems at the quarter pole of the one-mile Juvenile Fillies Turf and wound up second, beaten by two lengths by 13-1 More Than Real.
Winter Memories has been favored in all six of her starts.
This was the second start of the year for Bobby Flay's More Than Real, the 3-1 second choice in the Lake George. The Todd Pletcher-trained daughter of More Than Ready was coming off an 11th-place finish in the Coronation Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot June 17.
More Than Real was wide on the first turn for John Velazquez and lacked the needed response in the lane as Winter Memories blew past. She finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of Sunlight Sonata for the show spot.
Winter Memories paid $3.10, $2.30, and $2.10, and topped an $8.90 exacta. Bellamy Star, also trained by Pletcher, was coming off a win in Belmont's seven-furlong Xtra Heat Stakes June 5, and returned $3.90 and $2.50. The show price on More Than Real was $2.20.
Sunlight Sonata was followed by Calmafterthestorm and Little Miss Holly. Marion Ravenwood was entered for the main track only.