On October 3, I was sitting at Belmont Park watching the Grade 3 Miss Grillo with a trainer who knows a thing or two about winners; he’s trained horses that have won all three legs of the Triple Crown and the Travers; he’s trained two Breeders’ Cup winners.
And as he watched Winter Memories fly home to win the Miss Grillo by more than five lengths, he said, “There’s your Breeders’ Cup winner.”
On the strength of that victory, Jimmy Toner’s filly is heading to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf; she’s two for two, and Toner can barely hope that this impressive grey filly can follow in the footsteps of her talented mother.
Winter Memories is out of Memories of Silver, whom Toner trained to wins in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, the Beverly D, and the Diana; winner’s circle photos of the bay filly by Silver Hawk adorn his office on the backstretch at Belmont Park.
“This is something special for us,” he said recently as he pointed out the photos to a visitor.
“Winter Memories’ mother was a top-class filly; she made over $1 million.” Then, somewhat surprisingly, he says, “Her daughter is nothing like her.
“Winter Memories is very nice, very professional; she does everything the right way. Her mother was a bit of a brat, spoiled rotten, always had her own way about everything. She knew who she was.
“This one’s demeanor is much nicer to be around, but the ability of both of them stands out.”
Toner admits to some nervousness as he watched Winter Memories in the Miss Grillo. Breaking from the far outside in post 11, jockey José Lezcano took her back to the penultimate spot.
“The outside post didn’t bother me because she comes from behind and we figured we’d drop behind other horses,” Toner said. “My concern was when she started to move [heading into the far turn], then José took hold of her and took her back again.
“I thought something went wrong, and my heart sank. Then when she exploded the way she did, that was exciting, it really was.
“José told me, ‘No, nothing was wrong, I just wasn’t ready.’” The trainer laughs. “I said, ‘Well, I wish you could have told ME!’”
No stranger to successful fillies on the grass, Toner trained Wonder Again, who won multiple graded stakes, including the Diana, the Garden City, and the Noble Damsel; and Soaring Softly, winner of the Flower Bowl and the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 1999 en route to being named Champion Grass Female.
He laughs when he’s asked about the apparent connection between him and fillies that race on the grass. “I wish I had an answer for it. I really don’t. I asked Bobby Frankel about it once. He asked if I had any good fillies, and I said, ‘Yeah, I got one.’ He said, ‘You always have one.’ I said, ‘Yeah, why is that?’
“He said, ‘It’s the way you train.’ I probably train the fillies with more, I guess, of a comforting hand, an easier hand. I guess with the boys you have to get after them, and I’m not much of a ‘get after them’ kind of a person.
In his barn, Toner currently has daughters of his three big grass fillies, a situation that he likes. “You find out what the traits are from the family: ‘Oh, the mother did that…’ and it’s amazing how much they pick up on things from the mother.”
“Winter Memories is nicer than her mother, but she’s got other things about her. She’s got the determination that her mother had. Her mother was very competitive. She has that, too.”
Winter Memories is owned by Phillips Racing Partnership, who also owned Memories of Silver; the Partnership’s owners were Joan Phillips and her son John. Catherine Toner, Jimmy’s daughter, notes that this filly has particular meaning for the family.
“She’s going after Breeders’ Cup vindication for her dam, but Joan Phillips always wanted a grey filly. Winter was born shortly after she passed away in 2008. It was pretty emotional, kind of like a sign that Mrs Phillips was smiling down at us. I’m just glad the filly doesn’t know all the pressure on her; she just munches on hay, not a care in the world.”
Toner characterizes his filly’s path to the Breeders’ Cup as “So far, so good,” and she’s scheduled to go to Churchill on October 31st, after one more breeze at Belmont. And perhaps, on the afternoon of November 5th, this filly who is so special to two families, will fulfill their high hopes for her. If past performance is any indicator of future success, they won’t be disappointed.
Update: Here’s David Grening’s report on Winter Memories’ workout at Belmont this morning.
You can see Memories of Silver’s win in the Beverly D here (watch Bailey’s move up the rail in the stretch); below, Winter Memories’ Miss Grillo: