GARDEN CITY STAKES | PURSE: $250,000 | GRADE 1 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | 1 1/8 MILES
Jimmy Toner switched riders on Winter Memories for the Grade 1, $250,000 Garden City Stakes in hopes of getting his supremely talented filly a cleaner trip and a better chance at scoring her first Grade 1 win.
Somewhere at about the quarter pole of the 1 1/8-mile turf race Toner may have been regretting that decision, as new rider Javier Castellano found himself loaded with horse but stuck behind the entire field with no way out. The 3-year-old daughter of El Prado somehow overcame the brutal trip and with one huge burst allowed her trainer a huge sigh of relief.
Finding a way around the wall of horses in deep stretch, Winter Memories passed the entire field inside the sixteenth pole to win the Garden City by a neck in unbelievable fashion Sept. 17 at Belmont Park. The eye-popping victory was her fourth graded stakes triumph in five tries this season and solidified her status as one of the best turf fillies in the country.
A homebred of Phillips Racing Partnership, Winter Memories rebounded from a fourth-place finish as the 2-5 favorite in the Aug. 21 Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga, but it was anything but easy. The gray/roan filly will now head to Keeneland for the $400,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes Oct. 15 to try to capture the same race that her dam, Memories of Silver, did 15 years ago.
Sent off as the even-money choice in a field of eight that included the one-two finishers of the Lake Placid (Hungry Island and Kathmanblu) and last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner (More Than Real), Winter Memories was not far from the pace early on, but then dropped further back down the backstretch. More Than Real led the way under Corey Nakatani in a tightly-bunched group, running through easy fractions of :26.40, :51.60, and 1:16.12, and came off the turn with a narrow advantage.
Everyone was still in contention with a furlong remaining, including European invader Theyskens' Theory, who forged to the lead in upper stretch. Winter Memories, stuck between horses and still trailing the field, finally moved outside of Hungry Island past the eighth pole and began her sensational run under Castellano.
Like being shot from a gun in the final sixteenth, she finally passed Theyskens' Theory and Garrett Gomez in the final 70 yards to post a thrilling win. The final time on the firm turf course was 1:51.06.
"I didn't have a place to go," said Castellano, who replaced Jose Lezcano on Winter Memories. "I had to sit still and wait for my best moment to go around. I tried to sneak into a couple of holes, but it didn't work out that way. I had to wait a little bit for my opportunity.
"When everybody started to move, I had a chance to move her aside and let her find her kick. She has a wonderful kick, and I think that's what my best advantage is. When I asked her, she took off. I'm very blessed to ride this filly; she's one of the best fillies in the country."
Theyskens' Theory, a two-time added money winner this year in England, settled for second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of More Than Real. Hungry Island was another head back in fourth.
Winter Memories' wins this year now include the Appalachian at Keeneland, Sands Point at Belmont, and Lake George at Saratoga. She upped her career record to 6-1-0 from eight starts and her earnings to $698,100.
"When they turned into the lane it was the same scenario," Toner said, referring to her Lake Placid defeat. "She was blocked all over again. She had no place to go. I knew there was no chance to get inside or split horses; they were all bunched. I didn't think she had a chance. I can't believe the way she accelerated and exploded, in three strides. Phenomenal. Javier said to me, 'I knew she was going to win.' I said, 'I'm glad you did!'"
Toner has said previously that plans for a run in the Breeders' Cup have not yet been decided.
The winner paid $4.20, $2.60, and $2.20. The exacta (4-7) returned $24.80, and the trifecta (4-7-1) was worth $82.
Arch Support was fifth, followed by Salary Drive, Pinch Pie, and Kathmanblu.