If you stood them side by side, it would be difficult to declare a family resemblance between Grade I winner Winter Memories and her equally accomplished dam, Memories of Silver. The mother is smaller with a chocolate bay coat, and Winter Memories has a large physique and sparkling gray coloring.
But when Winter Memories gets a saddle on her back and a task in front of her, it becomes obvious she is indeed her mother's daughter.
"Mentally, they are very similar," said Darby Dan Farm owner John Phillips, who campaigned Memories of Silver and runs Winter Memories under his Phillips Racing Partnership. "Memories of Silver is just a sweet mare, and Winter Memories can be a sweet mare — until it's business time. Then, like her mother, all that sweetness goes away."
Fifteen years after Memories of Silver carried the Phillips colors to victory in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keene land, her most accomplished offspring will try to emulate her as as the 9-5 morning line favorite against seven other 3-year-old fillies in Saturday's 28th running of the 11⁄8-mile turf test.
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Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races might be the conventional goals for many in Thoroughbred racing. But for the Phillips clan and trainer Jimmy Toner, the $400,000 Queen Elizabeth II has long been among their top aspirations. Toner has won the race twice, including in 1996 with Memories of Silver, and the Phillips/Darby Dan banner has had five prior victors.
Winter Memories has won four of five starts this year, including a breathtaking victory in the Grade I Garden City Stakes at Belmont on Sept. 17, but there is a strong possibility the Breeders' Cup will not be on her agenda.
Whether or not she ends up at Churchill Downs, Winter Memories will have accomplished the long-term goal set for her should she add her name alongside her mother's on the list of QEII winners.
"You know, I'm not going to the Triple Crown. I don't run in those races, I don't have those kind of horses so, for me, this is like the epitome of what I could possibly do," Toner said. "That's why it means an awful lot to me. This race is basically like our Breeders' Cup. This holds a certain tradition for Darby Dan and for the Phillips, so this would mean everything for us."
Should Winter Memories earn her second Grade I victory Saturday, emotions would resonate on many levels for her connections.
When she captured the Grade III Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland on April 21, it marked three years to the day that John Phillips' mother, Joan "Jody" Galbreath Phillips, died. Winter Memories was foaled on April 24, 2008 — the day of Jody Phillips' funeral — and when she emerged, her gray coat served as a fitting tribute to the matriarch of the Darby Dan operation.
"My mother always wanted a gray horse, so (Winter Memories) was always more noticed because of her birth date and her color," John Phillips said. "So she's always been special in a very unscientific, unhorsemanlike way. I can't say from the moment I saw her, I knew she was a champion. The moment I saw her, I knew she was special ... and she just added that quality of talent that makes her even more special."
What made Memories of Silver an exceptional performer despite her diminutive frame was her absolutely fearless attitude.
Not only did Winter Memories inherit her dam's mettle, she has the guile to repeatedly look defeat in the face and not even blink.
Her late-running style often puts the daughter of El Prado in spots where she has to weave her way through traffic to find the clear sailing needed to showcase her kick.
No race demonstrated her ability to escape more than her recent triumph in the 11⁄8-mile Garden City. She got shuffled to the rear of the field racing down the backstretch and was stuck behind a wall of horses in the lane. In a remarkable show of speed and agility, Winter Memories angled hard right to the extreme outside under jockey Javier Castellano and blew past all seven rivals in the final sixteenth of a mile to best Theyskens' Theory by a neck for her fifth graded-stakes win from eight career starts and first Grade I score.
"I think most horses would be defined by those performances, had they not won, as just being hard-luck horses," Phillips said. "She's been able to transcend what otherwise would be bad racing luck and still make the best of it. It hasn't always happened — eventually we do get caught — but it is quite remarkable that her talent transcends misfortune."
Saturday's QEII will be no cakewalk for Winter Memories. Fellow entrants and Grade I winners Nereid and Summer Soiree both possess early speed capable of wiring the field.
Because of Winter Memories' talent and bloodlines, Toner concedes she is given a lot of latitude around the barn for her sometimes diva-like attitude.
"She knows she can get away with it," Toner laughed.
In living up to the standard her mother set, Winter Memories has further shown a knack for pulling off challenging feats — a trend her connections hope continues Saturday.
"Let's face it, I don't think too many horses can do what she does," Toner said. "Her mother was my favorite horse. She had such a way about her and to be as good as she was ... you think you'll never have another one as good. To have her daughter come back and do what she is doing, what are the odds?"