On Oct. 14, Keeneland will host what, to me, is its most prestigious race year over year—the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (G1T). On one of my first visits to the Bluegrass and to Keeneland, the 1996 edition of the QE II was implanted in my psyche as one of the most memorable races I've witnessed.
The English import Shake the Yoke looked unbeatable on form and had my favorite rider, Eddie Delahoussaye, on her back to boot. But a free-running filly named Memories of Silver outclassed her that day, winning the 1 1/8-mile race by a half-length in 1:45.80, still a course record 21 years later.
Memories of Silver left us last week at age 24, her brave heart unable to fend off the infirmities of old age. She wasn't the biggest filly in the world, but she may have been the kindest, and it is not hyperbole to say that, like Sunday Silence at Arthur Hancock III's Stone Farm, she saved the day for John Phillips and his family at Darby Dan Farm.
Memories of Silver (Silver Hawk—All My Memories, by Little Current) was an outstanding runner, and with a bit more racing luck might have become a Hall of Famer. She won the Lake George Stakes and Nijana Stakes (G3T) in addition to the QE II at 3, the Just a Game Breeders' Cup Handicap (G3T) and Beverly D. Stakes (G1T) at 4, and the Robert G. Dick Memorial Stakes, Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup Handicap (G3T), and Diana Handicap (G2T) at 5. A couple of brutal trips prevented her from adding the Matriarch and Yellow Ribbon stakes (both G1T) in California to her ledger, which stopped at nine victories in 19 races, good for $1,448,715.
"She had a good run," said John Phillips, who has guided Darby Dan Farm, founded by his grandfather, John Galbreath, since 1992. The glory days of classic winners Chateaugay, Proud Clarion, and Roberto had already passed when he took over, and Phillips was struggling to keep the proud operation solvent.
"Memories of Silver was profoundly important in carrying the farm and my family through a very difficult transitional period, and that's one of the reasons why we were so fond of her," Phillips continued. "She was also a really kind horse, and we would go love on her frequently."
As if knowing more was needed from her, Memories of Silver went on to be a standout broodmare as well. Her first two foals, British Blue and War Trace, both colts by Storm Cat, became stakes winners. La Cloche, a tiny Ghostzapper filly, won the 2012 Athenia Stakes (G3T). And then came the big, striking gray El Prado filly Winter Memories, who had all the fight of her dam, winning seven graded stakes, including the Diana Stakes and Garden City Stakes (both G1T) en route to $1,268,100 in earnings. La Cloche and Winter Memories were raced by the Phillips family as well.
"She was also the producer of some very pricey (sale) horses," noted Phillips, "so she sustained us not only emotionally, but also financially, for almost two decades. It's incredible, what she means to the farm. It's so much more than she won a lot of races and was a great broodmare."
Phillips recalled a conversation he had with jockey Jerry Bailey, who rode Memories of Silver in her prime.
"Jerry told me, 'I can't say she is the best horse I've ever ridden, although she is very, very good. But she is the most courageous horse I've ever ridden.' That was an incredible compliment to her."
Darby Dan and the Phillips family have taken the Queen Elizabeth II an amazing five times in its 33-year history, and each of those winners is memorable. But none were more special than Memories of Silver.