By Blood-Horse Staff
Phillips Racing Partnership’s homebred Winter Memories, a gray/roan daughter of El Prado, accelerated coming off the second turn and continued on for an impressive victory in the $600,000 Diana Handicap (gr. IT) over a good turf course at Saratoga Race Course.
The 8-5 favorite in a six-horse field of older fillies and mares, Winter Memories showed her affinity for the Saratoga turf as she posted her third win in four starts over the grass at the Spa. With her eighth victory in 12 starts, the 4-year-old filly improved her bankroll to $1,268,100 for trainer James Toner.
Tapitsfly, a Dale Romans-trained daughter of Tapit who was coming off an impressive 2 1/4-length victory over Winter Memories in the grade I Just a Game Handicap, took the early lead as expected in the 1 1/8-mile Diana, while being closely tracked by longshot Law of The Range and Zagora.
The order remained unchanged down the backside and into the second turn, as Tapitsfly set a moderate pace of :23.31 and :47.56 under jockey Joel Rosario. Winter Memories, meanwhile, was content to lay just behind the top three, but never more than four lengths off the leader. The pace quickened as the field negotiated the far turn and Winter Memories began her move on the outside as Tapitsfly continued to lead after six furlongs had been completed in 1:11.27.
With Tapitsfly fading as the field negotiated the grandstand straight the second time, Winter Memories accelerated coming out of the second turn, drawing off to lead by two lengths before hitting the wire 1 1/2 lengths in front of Dream Peace, ridden by Julien Leparoux, and Zagora, under Ramon Dominguez. Final time was 1:48.50.
Winter Memories paid $5.50, $3.40, $2.60. Dream Peace was worth $6.40 and $3.70, with Zagora worth $3.00.
Toner said the lack of pace meant Castellano had Winter Memories up closer to the leaders because the winner’s connections did not want to let Tapitsfly get too far out on the lead.
“There was no pace,” the trainer said. “I think we were closer due to the way the race was shaping up. I just left it in Javier (Castellano’s) hands and said, ‘Just do what you want to do, but I wouldn’t let (Tapitsfly) get too far away from us today.’”
“I was aware (speed had been doing well on the turf.) It didn’t make me feel any better going into it. I saw that and said, ‘Oh, this is not good.’ But I do think (Law of the Range) put a little pressure on (Tapitsfly), and Javi just got after her a little bit sooner.”
“I was concerned a little bit because it was a small field,” Castellano said. “I would have liked to cover her up a little bit at the beginning of the race. There wasn’t much speed in the race. That was my concern. It worked out great. It was amazing. She was able to cover up. She was able to finish so well today. Tapitsfly took advantage the last time (in the Just a Game). There was not much speed in that race and it was a short distance. Today was my opportunity. My filly is a 1 1/8-mile or a 1 1/4-mile horse. She likes the two turns. She likes to cover up and she gave me that kick.”
“She likes upstate New York,” said winning owner John Phillips. “It’s a great venue. She is one very, very good horse, and we’re proud to have her. She’s tough. I know one thing about her─she, like the rest of her family, will give her best. It’s a wonderful quality, in people or horses. I almost didn’t know how to handle (her having a clean trip). She was four-wide and trouble-free, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m not sure what’s going to happen here!’ It was quite a move that she made.”
Winter Memories was produced from the Silver Hawk mare Memories of Silver, whose six graded stakes wins included the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (gr. IT) in course record time at Keeneland.
Nicolas de Chambure, of Etreham Farm that owns runner-up Dream Peace, said the French-based filly likely needed the race since it was her first start since May and first in the U.S.
“It was her first time (running) since May, so she probably needed the race,” de Chambure said. “She’s staying in America now (with trainer Chad Brown), so hopefully we’ll be able to pick up a Grade 1 win for her. We’re very happy though, she ran a very good race.”
“She ran really good race,” Leparoux said of the runner-up. “We saved ground along the inside and I had room to go whenever I wanted. Tapitsfly set a good pace for us. But my filly takes a little time to get going. I think more distance will be OK for her.”
Brown, who also trains third-place finisher Zagora, was complimentary of Winter Memories.
“The winner ran a great race,” Brown said. “Ramon (Dominguez) gave me a giant trip on the inside. I hadn’t run her in 10 weeks; I thought I had her ready. Maybe she was just a little short, but it was a tremendous performance, and hats off to the winner.”
“I had a great trip,” Dominguez said. “I was able to sit in the pocket right behind the two leaders. I really had first run at them if I wanted. But I decided to wait a little longer because I saw that the winner at that point was coming with a really strong run. I just felt like I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with her. When I finally got my filly out she came running and was able to be third.”
For an Equibase chart, click here.