09/17/2011 7:12PM

Belmont Park: Winter Memories explodes once clear to win Garden City

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Winter Memories, with Javier Castellano up, rallies to beat Theyskens’ Theory by a neck in the Grade 1 Garden City at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – As the field for the Garden City Stakes approached the eighth pole at Belmont Park, the connections of even-money favorite Winter Memories couldn’t watch any longer.

Under Javier Castellano, Winter Memories was last of eight with no place to run. Owner John Phillips and trainer Jimmy Toner wanted to hide.

“I thought we were done for sure,” Phillips said. “I thought, ‘Well, it’s not today.’ “

“I put my glasses down at the eighth pole, because she’s dead last and she had no place to go,” Toner said.

But in the blink of an eye, Castellano got Winter Memories into the six path, and once clear she exploded with a rarely seen burst of speed that carried her from last to first, defeating Theyskens’ Theory by a neck in the $250,000 Garden City before a crowd of 6,845. It was 1 1/2 lengths back to More Than Real in third.

“That’s breathtaking,” Phillips said. “Breathtaking.”

Said Toner: “I cannot believe she won the race. I cannot believe the way she accelerated and exploded in a short space of time; you’re talking about a sixteenth of a mile.”

The win was the sixth from eight career starts and first Grade 1 victory for Winter Memories, a daughter of El Prado out of the Grade 1-winning mare Memories of Silver, also trained by Toner and owned by Phillips. It also helped erase the memory of her fourth-place finish as the 2-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga, even if the trip was starting to look eerily familiar.

In the Lake Placid, Winter Memories was between horses under Jose Lezcano, bottled up with no place to run. That day, she trudged home fourth behind Hungry Island, who could finish no better than fourth in the Garden City.

That prompted Phillips and Toner to make a rider change to Castellano.

The same sick feeling Toner had that rainy Aug. 21 afternoon at Saratoga was creeping in again Saturday as he watched Winter Memories retreat to second-to-last behind fractions of 26.40 seconds for the quarter, 51.60 for the half-mile, and 1:16.12 for six furlongs.

“She’s not where I want her to be, because she’s starting to get boxed in,” Toner said as he watched the replay. “Flashbacks to Saratoga all over again – this filly can’t catch a break with a decent trip.”

It wasn’t getting much better by the top of the stretch as Winter Memories was now last behind a wall of horses. Castellano had to wait for Hungry Island, under Alex Solis, to go by him so he could swing his filly into the clear. That didn’t happen until inside the eighth pole.

“When Alex made the move, I got out and unbelievable,” said Castellano, who won four races on the card. “I asked a little bit, I tapped her on the shoulder, and she took off. When she took off, I knew she was going to go by them.”

He had to go by Theyskens’ Theory who struck the front outside the sixteenth pole under Garrett Gomez.

The burst of acceleration Winter Memories displayed was similar to what she showed winning the Grade 2 Lake George on July 27, when she overcame trouble at the quarter pole.

“I thought the one at Saratoga was awesome, but I’ve never seen anything like that,” Toner said as he watched the conclusion of the race. “That was just incredible.”

Winter Memories had to run her last eighth in 10.60 seconds en route to covering the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.06. She returned $4.20 as the even-money favorite.

Winter Memories will most likely make her next start in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 15.

Andrew Rosen, owner of Theyskens’ Theory, confirmed that his filly would remain in this country and be transferred to Shug McGaughey.

McGaughey is the trainer of Hungry Island, who had a four-race winning streak snapped with a fourth-place finish in the Garden City.

“I ran her back too quick, my fault,” McGaughey said. “I knew it going in.”