05/03/2012 9:52AM

Belmont Park: Winter Memories returns in Beaugay Stakes

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Tom Keyser
Winter Memories has not run since finishing fourth in the QE II at Keeneland.

ELMONT, N.Y. – New York’s grass racing season begins in earnest Saturday with the Beaugay and Fort Marcy, a pair of Grade 3, $150,000 stakes scheduled for the Widener turf at 1 1/16 miles.

Winter Memories, a five-time graded stakes winner for Jimmy Toner, makes her 4-year-old debut, along with entrymate La Cloche, in the Beaugay.

Winter Memories unleashed breathtaking turns of foot repeatedly last year, most notably to win the Grade 2 Lake George and Grade 1 Garden City with dizzying bursts of speed. This will be her first start since a fourth in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland last October.

“I’m not sure she likes Keeneland, and I think she went over the top after the Garden City,” Toner said. “She has developed and matured over the winter. The ultimate goal would be the Breeders’ Cup, but it’s one step at a time.”

Hessonite, scratched from the Videogenic overnight stakes three weeks ago due to a foot abscess, makes her first start since winning the Ticonderoga last fall and clinching a New York-bred grass filly title.

“I’d like to run against New York-breds, but you have to start somewhere,” trainer David Donk said. “The Mount Vernon is 22 days after this race, and if I get a decent race in the Beaugay, I’ll think about coming back in the Mount Vernon. As fit as I have her, there’s no reason to sit on her for three more weeks.”

The likely second choice is Federation, a Christophe Clement-trained import who won two allowance races at Tampa Bay Downs before a runner-up finish to Diana winner Zagora in the Grade 3 Hillsborough.

“She didn’t win many races in England, so it was nice to give her some easy races before trying stakes company,” said Clement, who has been red hot to start the spring. “Unfortanaely, it’s not easy in New York. Winter Memories will be a formidable opponent.”

Fort Marcy: Softer turf may suit Boisterous

Boisterous and Silver Medallion may vie for favoritism against seven other turf-meant rivals in the Fort Marcy.

Rain earlier in the week could be an edge for Boisterous, a Phipps Stable homebred who closed out 2011 winning the Knickerbocker and Red Smith on courses rated yielding and good for Shug McGaughey.

“The mile and a quarter of the Manhattan [June 9] suits him more than the Fort Marcy, but he is doing very well,” assistant trainer Robbie Medina said.

Todd Pletcher-trained Silver Medallion has won his last three starts on firm turf, including back-to-back Grade 3 stakes in Florida at the turn of the year. He has been freshened nearly three months since giving futile chase to Get Stormy as the 7-5 choice in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.

Desert Blanc, a three-time winner in France, makes his U.S. debut for Chad Brown following a private purchase.

“He came straight to Palm Meadows, and he trained pretty well down there,” Brown said. “He’s run as far as a mile and a quarter over there, but I think this is a good comeback, a mile and a sixteenth, to see where we’re at with him. He’s a versatile horse, but I’ll be looking to stretch him out after this race.”

Other than Silver Medallion, the only entrant to have won this year is Upgrade, who has turned in three bullet workouts since taking a second-level allowance over Mahubo, who returned to win an overnight stakes.

Upgrade was scratched from the April 21 Miami Mile at Calder when it came off the turf.

“We chose to skip the off-the-turf stake . . . and he’s been sitting on ‘go’ for a couple of weeks now,” trainer Michelle Nihei said.