“It’s Saratoga,” trainer Jimmy Toner lamented. “The graveyard of favorites.”
Toner would know. A few minutes prior to that utterance, his was buried.
Winter Memories, a 3-year-old El Prado filly who had been so brilliant in her first three 2011 starts (all graded stakes, and all victories), came up short in Sunday’s Lake Placid Stakes (G2), finishing a disappointing fourth.
The winner was Hungry Island, who handled the step up to graded company with an impressive 2½ length score. She came from last place to do it, behind fractions that could be considered modest, at best, even taking the yielding going into account. Bellamy Star set a dawdling opening pace, going 26:4 for the opening quarter mile, and 51:0 for the opening half.
Hungry Island had no trouble overcoming dynamics that didn’t appear to play into her favor, as she quickly closed into the soft fractions, asserting full command of the proceedings by the time the field hit the sixteenth pole.
“I think this is a good filly,” said trainer Shug McGaughey of Hungry Island. “She’s done everything we wanted her to do this year.”
But with due respect to Hungry Island and her venerable trainer, the story was Winter Memories, and her troubled journey around Saratoga’s Mellon turf course.
Winter Memories began her problematic lap underneath jockey Jose Lezcano about five lengths off the pace. But she was trapped in between horses going around the first turn. Some horses can handle that position. According to Toner, Winter Memories is not one of them.
“She was trapped in,“ Toner observed. “She just doesn’t like to be between horses.”
She remained trapped in between Dynamic Holiday and Trac N Jam until the latter dropped out of the race with approximately a half mile remaining. Lezcano, at this point, decided to make his move. He looked to move off of the rail and make a run on the outside. But Dynamic Holiday, and, more specifically, jockey Ramon Dominguez, refused to allow Winter Memories to get in the clear. He kept Winter Memories pinned as they turned for home.
This forced Lezcano to look elsewhere for racing room. He first tried to find a seam down the center. But tiring pacesetter Bellamy Star impeded his progress in that lane. So he was forced to bring Winter Memories back to the rail. By then, she was being inhaled by Hungry Island, who had enjoyed a comparatively stress-free trip. Kathmanblu got the place. And Winter Memories’ nemesis on this day, Dynamic Holiday, outfinished her for the show.
Lezcano, for his part, chose not to blame the trip for Winter Memories’ defeat, choosing instead to chalk up the loss to the filly’s distaste for the course condition.
“I don’t think she liked [the ground],” Lezcano said simply.
Toner passed along Lezcano’s sentiments before noting that soft ground hadn’t been a problem for Winter Memories in the past.
“She won the Miss Grillo on soft ground,” Toner noted. “There are no excuses.”
Such a comment would seem to indicate that Lezcano might well have ridden Winter Memories for the last time.
Still, Toner refused to let himself get down over the loss.
“When you win, you win; when you lose, you lose.”
This philosophy does not exactly conjure up thoughts of Plato and Sophocles. Nor, frankly, does it reflect the gravity of this defeat.
It was a stunner.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Coglianese/NYRA