There was more than just the obvious significance behind Winter Memories' triumph in the Grade III Appalachian Stakes at Keene land, so much that owner John Phillips almost didn't know where to begin.
The gray filly is out of one of the Phillips family's top mares, and any win at Keene land is a big deal for them, but there was an added emotional layer to Winter Memories' start on Thursday.
"One of the reasons the whole family came together here is, three years ago today, my mother died," Phillips said. "She was the one who always wanted the gray horse."
Winter Memories did her connections proud on every front Thursday, running down 42-1 shot Dos Lunas in the final strides to capture the 1-mile Appalachian Stakes by a neck in her first start since last November.
Winter Memories represents some of the Phillips stable's classic bloodlines. She is a daughter of multiple Grade I winner Memories of Silver, who was a Phillips homebred.
Like her dam, Winter Memories has shone great aptitude on the turf, and Thursday marked her second graded-stakes win in four career starts.
"(Trainer) Jimmy (Toner) almost instantly said this horse came along a lot faster than the family usually does," John Phillips said. "They're usually late-developing horses; October, November is usually their first start. So, almost immediately, she set herself above the rest."
Although Winter Memories had not started since her runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 — her lone loss — her classy pedigree inspired bettors to send her off as the 4-5 favorite in the 10-horse field.
As is her customary style, the filly settled off the pace midpack in about sixth down the backstretch while New Normal carved out an opening half-mile in :49.02 with Dos Lunas prompting her on the inside.
Coming off the turn for home, Dos Lunas emerged to take a short lead, but her upset bid was soon stymied. Under jockey Jose Lezcano, Winter Memories unleashed her kick after angling out off the turn and kept digging until she crossed the wire in a final time of 1:37.27 over a course rated firm.
"We had a filly who we knew was a good horse, a top horse, so we gave her the winter off and gave her a chance to develop," Toner said. "We gave her time, and I couldn't be happier with the way she ran today."
Dos Lunas held for second, 21/2 lengths clear of Parting Words in third.
"I kicked with plenty of horse underneath me; I didn't think anybody could get by me," said Jon Court, who was aboard Dos Lunas. "Unfortunately, I got beat by a legitimate favorite."
Winter Memories earned her first graded-stakes score when she won the Miss Grillo Stakes by 51/4 lengths at Belmont Park last October.
She could make a return to Belmont in the Grade II Sands Point on May 30 with her long-term goal being the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in October — a race her mother won in 1996.
"That's always the goal for our family. Memories of Silver still holds the course record here," Phillips said. "Hopefully, we can have the mother-daughter combination."