Winter Memories turned in the worst effort of her brilliant career last month when she finished fourth in the Woodford Reserve Lake Placid Stakes (gr.2) after enduring a horrible trip boxed in on the rails. Now, the four-time graded stakes winner returns Saturday to defend her reputation against a strong field of eight sophomore fillies on Belmont Park’s inner turf course.
Despite finishing out of the money in the Lake Placid, Winter Memories will still go off a solid favorite in the Garden City Stakes (gr.1) off the strength of her three consecutive graded stakes scores earlier this year. Starting in mid-May the striking gray filly won the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes, Grade 2 Sands Points Stakes and the Grade 2 Lake George Stakes, all in dominant fashion. After breaking from post five in a field of seven in the Woodford Reserve Lake Placid, Winter Memories got pinned down on the rail as the field navigated the far turn and struggled to find a gap to run through as the field entered the homestretch. She finally managed to work her way through an opening on the inside and find clear running room, but by that time it was too late, and Hungry Island was well on her way to winning. In seven lifetime starts the El Prado filly has crossed the line ahead of the pack five times and finished second once. Her only unplaced effort came in the Lake Placid. She enters the Garden City Stakes off two five furlongs works. Her last move was a fairly slow 1:03.48 move over Belmont’s Inner Turf course, but still ranked as the fastest of three moves at the distance. There is little doubt she is the class of this field, and that’s saying a lot when you consider there are three other graded stakes winners running, not to mention two black-type stakes winners. She’s the type of filly that makes you think she’s a once in a lifetime kind of talent.
Hungry Island took on the role of “giant-slayer” when she bested Winter Memories in the Lake Placid Stakes, but it was hardly her first dominant win this year. It took the More Than Ready filly four tries before she finally put it all together, but once she did, she’s been unbeatable. She rides a four-race win streak into the Garden City Stakes and each one of those wins has something in common: A devastating late closing kick. Three of the last four official charts on her victories note that she “drew clear”, “edged clear”, and “powered clear”. The only result chart that doesn’t note her going clear in some way was when she won a 1 1/16 mile allowance at Belmont Park on the inner turf course by a neck, after rallying from far back with a closing rush. The results are clear; This filly has become incredibly competitive since she first discovered the winners circle, and she gets a little bit better with each race. The 2 ½ length victory in the Lake Placid was the icing on the cake for the Claude McGaughey trained filly, but the best could still be to come. She enters off a strong :47.43 four furlong work on the dirt that was preceded by a :36.84 three furlong move one week earlier. The shorter works should have her fit and on her toes for the Garden City, but not over worked.
Kathmanblu was once the early favorite for the Kentucky Oaks (gr.1) towards the beginning of the year. After a huge performance in the Golden Rod Stakes (gr.2) last year, the daughter of Bluegrass Cat easily captured the Sweetest Chant Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream Park before capturing the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr.3) by 1 ¼ lengths, over future Queens Plate winner Inglorious, at Fair Grounds in her return to dirt. After those three consecutive, dominant wins everything seemed to fall apart for Kathmanblu. She finished a dull third in the Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland Stakes before finishing sixth in the Kentucky Oaks (gr.1). Returning in the Regret Stakes (gr.3) just over a month later she finished fourth, beaten three lengths while running against an average field. After a short break she returned in the Woodford Reserve Lake Placid (gr.2) and finished a good second, defeated by 2 ½ lengths after rating behind the leader, taking over at the top of the stretch, and ultimately proving no match for the rally of Hungry Island. She showed a whole lot more of her old self in the Lake Placid, and should be much sharper in the Garden City. After she took the lead in the Lake Placid she began to slowly pull away from the pack, but began to tire noticeably in the final yards. If she returns to the form that saw her win the Sweetest Chant Stakes earlier this year, she could be a huge threat. Trainer Kenny McPeek sent his pupil out for just one five furlong move before the Garden City, an easy 1:03.14 breeze.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr.2) winner More Than Real has run just twice this year, and only five times in her short career. After breaking her maiden decisively over future graded stakes winner Dynamic Holiday, More Than Real finished second in the Natalma Stakes (gr.3) before conquering the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf by two lengths over Winter Memories, with Kathmanblu another head back in third. After a terrible 11th place showing in England’s Coronation Stakes at Ascot in mid June, trainer Todd Pletcher brought the Breeders’ Cup winner back to the United States to take on Winter Memories in the Lake George Stakes (gr.2) in late July. Considering it was just her second start of the year and she had recently completed a trip to England and back, More Than Real ran a good race, finishing third behind a freakish performance from Winter Memories. The More Than Ready filly rallied strongly around the far turn, hung a bit coming into the stretch, and then continued to close the gap between herself and front running Bellamy Star before Winter Memories crashed the party. She’s been off since her third place finish in the Lake George and has turned in four straight four furlong works since August 21st. She should be ready to run much better than he descent Lake George run, but perhaps not sharp enough to defeat this group yet. Still, don’t underestimate her chances. With only five lifetime starts to her credit, this filly has a lot of room for improvement and her year has barely started.The remainder of the field is completed by Dauphin Miss Stakes winner Salary Drive, Desert Vixen Stakes winner Pinch Pie, European Group 3 winner Theysken’s Theory, winner of two of her last three starts, allowance winner Arch Support, and maiden winner Draw It. Salary Drive enters off a sharp two length victory in the 1 mile Dauphin Miss Stakes at Penn Nation on July 29th. The Garden City will be her 10th race this year. Pinch Pie finished third in the Alabama Stakes (Gr.1) behind Royal Delta and It’s Tricky in her most recent start. She won the 1 1/16 mile Desert Vixen Stakes at Monmouth Park on the turf on July 24th after taking an allowance optional claiming race at Delaware Park in late May. She turned in a :47.20 bullet four furlong work in her final Garden City preparation and should be extremely fit after contesting the 1 ¼ mile Alabama. Theysken’s Theory contested the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr.1) as one of the betting favorites last year but finished sixth. She has won four of her eight lifetime starts and will be making just her second start in the United States. Arch Support enters off allowance win at Saratoga on September 1st going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. Draw It broke her maiden in her second try before finishing sixth in the Ashland Stakes (gr.1). She most recently finished second in the Proud Spell Stakes at Saratoga on August 19th.
[Winter Memories ranks just #6 on HRN's 3-year-old Fillies Rankings page; Is she good enough to be considered a Top Three contender in the division?]
It’s easy to make a case for Hungry Island in the Garden City Stakes (gr.1), until you watch a replay of the Lake George Stakes (gr.2), and then you realize how far ahead of the game Winter Memories really is. I don’t think she liked the yielding turf in the Lake Placid as well as the firm footing she’s used to, but any chance at taking a fair run for the lead was taken away with her horrible trip. If she gets a clean break, a good position and clear running off the turn, I think she’ll become a Grade 1 winner on Saturday.