The most recent charge to victory down the stretch by Winter Memories had a bit of a hiccup just before it started.
Content to sit in the back of the six-horse field of the Grade II Lake George at Saratoga Race Course on Wednesday until the time for that charge, jockey Jose Lezcano turned the favored filly loose halfway through the final turn, but quickly had to check her to avoid clipping heels with Calmafterthestorm, who was backing up between Little Miss Holly and More Than Real and headed straight for Winter Memories.
Lezcano was unable to get back into it until the top of the stretch, when he showed Winter Memories the way to the outside and the gray 3-year-old flew like driven snow around and past the field to a 4 1⁄2-length victory.
“He almost clipped heels,” trainer James Toner said. “He had to steady her to get her outside.
Otherwise, she was going to run right over her. She came on, he had to check her.”
Lezcano had to stand up in the stirrups to steady Winter Memories and redirect her into More Than Real’s wake. As they entered the stretch, he brought her farther outside and let her go.
“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.”
The one loss Winter Memories suffered — she is 5-1-0 from six career starts — was a runner-up finish to More Than Real in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Nov. 5. That being for $1 million and the Lake George for $150,000, Toner said there was no measure of revenge in the win.
Sunlight Sonata and Bellamy Star were up front most of the way through the 1 1/16-mile run on the turf. As Sunlight Sonata faded entering the stretch, Bellamy Star led until passed by the surging Winter Memories near the sixteenth pole.
As exciting as the finish — and the final turn, for that matter — was, it was the backstretch that had Toner concerned, as his filly was far more relaxed than he had seen her in her five other career starts.
“It was surprising. She was off the bit and so relaxed on the backside, I didn’t know what to think of it, truthfully,” Toner said. “I said, ‘Oh, God,’ she didn’t seem like she was on it today. But he just dropped her head, and there was nobody around her. She just relaxed, and she was galloping along. When he picked her up and asked her to run, she just accelerated and took off.”
Toner said her more relaxed attitude may have been a product of a calm trip through the paddock, the result of recent schooling.
“We’ve been schooling her in the paddock, and she handled herself really well today,” he said. “As long as you keep walking her, she’s good. No episodes today. The last couple of times, she got kind of restless in the paddock when the tack went on and all, and it might have gotten her on the bit a little more, but today … she did everything good. I’m very happy with the performance and the way she handled herself. I couldn’t be happier.”
Winning the Lake George, Winter Memories galloped through her mother’s footsteps. Memories of Silver won the race in 1996.
Winter Memories also won the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 15, which is the ultimate goal. First, she will point toward the Grade II Lake Placid at Saratoga on Aug. 21.
Trainer Todd Pletcher saddled both More Than Real and runner-up Bellamy Star. More Than Real finished third, a length back from her stablemate. Pletcher said he was pleased with both the horses.
“I thought they both ran very well,” he said. “We’re happy with how Bellamy Star settled. She obviously kicked on. More Than Real had kind of a difficult run around the first turn and lost a little ground, but then settled well. I think it was pretty encouraging, considering her trip to England [11th at Royal Ascot in last] and everything. Hopefully, this one will move her forward.”