Dark clouds and torrential rain gave way to blazing sun and a glorious Met Mile day at Belmont, exactly the sort of day to kick off summer racing with one of New York’s historic races.
The Grade 2 Sands Point for three-year-old fillies was the day’s co-feature; inaugurated in 1995, the race is named for a village in Nassau County and has been won by some impressive grass fillies in its 18 runnings, including Riskaverse, Wait a While, and Rutherienne. Yesterday, Winter Memories added her name to that list.
Winter Memories made her first start last September at Saratoga, winning by a length and a half for trainer Jimmy Toner. After a blowout win in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo Belmont, Winter Memories headed to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, where she finished second to More Than Real.
Off for the winter, she returned to her winning ways in April at Keeneland in the Grade 3 Appalachian, and she’s now two-for-two in 2011.
Before the race, Winter Memories didn’t inspire confidence in the paddock; for the first time, Toner walked her and saddled her away from the walking ring, and she looked hot and listless, without a sign of a “game face.” But when the gates opened, she sat up closer to the pace than usual under jockey José Lezcano in the face of dawdling fractions, and when he said “go,” she did, winning by three lengths.
“She’s getting a little racy,” said Toner. “At Keeneland she started to get a little upset saddling. When you put her in the confined area, she wants to kick the walls. She’s been better out in the back, so whatever she wants is what we do. She’s happier back there and it worked out well.”
A race later, six-year-old Tizway broke a three-race losing streak, returning to the site of his last victory in winning the historic Metropolitan Handicap by two and three-quarter lengths as the favorite.
After winning the Grade 2 Kelso at Belmont in October, Tizway ran fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile and third in graded stakes races at Gulfstream and Charles Town. In six starts at Belmont, Tizway has never finished worse than third, earning three of his six victories over the track.
“I’m just fortunate enough to have him in my barn,” said trainer H. James Bond. “[Dr. Alan Nixon] from Cornell, thank you, thank you, thank you. He helped put him back. He had a little broken, fractured wingbone. He hasn’t missed a beat since then.”
The Whitney, in which Tizway ran fourth in 2009, is under consideration for Tizway’s summer campaign. “It’s our home base,” said Bond. “We’ll back up from the Breeders’ Cup and basically start looking backwards and try to find the right spots for him.”
Tizway ran in the Met Mile last year, finishing third behind Quality Road and Musket Man. Five of the eleven Met Mile starters were aged five or six, and as Andy Serling noted after the race, the top three finishers (Tizway, Rodman, and Caixa Electronica) are all six-year-olds. A tweeter from the Blood-Horse added that at Lone Star, eight-year-old Awesome Gem won the Lone Star Handicap.
For the last few months, the racing world has kept its eye on three-year-old colts, and the first two legs of the Triple Crown have offered no shortage of interesting stories and memorable performances. Yesterday at Belmont, we got to shift our attention to the fillies, to the grass, and to the older horses, so here’s to Winter Memories and to Tizway, and to what we can hope to see from them this summer.