04/19/2011 12:02PM

Keeneland: Winter Memories returns in deep Appalachian field

Barbara D. Livingston
Winter Memories will make her 2011 debut in Thursday's Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A filly whose only career defeat came when she was second in a Breeders’ Cup event would have to be the favorite in pretty much any race she competes in next, right?

Well, yes. But when Winter Memories returns to action Thursday in the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland, she won’t be as overwhelming a choice as you might have thought.

Jimmy Toner, who trains homebred Winter Memories for the Phillips Racing Partnership, could only laugh when talking about how deep the Appalachian came up. Rival fillies such as Ruthenia, Smart Sting, and New Normal appear entirely capable of pulling the mild upset, while several others have shown considerable promise as well.

KEENELAND: Race-by-race analysis of Thursday's card and live video of the Appalachian

“I mean, it’s only a $100,000 purse,” Toner said. “But it almost looks like we’re running in the Breeders’ Cup again. It’s a pretty solid race.”

Fourteen 3-year-old fillies are entered in the Appalachian, which goes at a mile on turf, although only as many as 12 can start. Winter Memories, with Jose Lezcano back to ride, will be favored after having most recently finished second as the 11-10 favorite in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf last November at Churchill Downs. Winter Memories was terrific in winning both starts before that, a Saratoga maiden race and the Grade 3 Miss Grillo at Belmont Park.

“The filly has done everything right since the Breeders’ Cup,” Toner said. “We took her down to Palm Meadows and turned her out in the round pen for about a month, gave her time to fill out, unwind, and develop. She’s been on a steady program since January, and knock on wood, she’s been training very good. I believe she’s put on some weight and matured the way you’d like to see. The main thing Thursday is to just get her started. We’ve got a plan for her the rest of the year, but let’s get through this and let everything else take care of itself.”

Ruthenia, trained by Christophe Clement, is the likely second choice after winning both starts at 2, including an ungraded stakes at Belmont. Alan Garcia has the call.

Smart Sting also is 2 for 2 and will be making her stakes debut Thursday with Shaun Bridgmohan riding for trainer Roger Attfield.

New Normal ran eighth in the Juvenile Fillies Turf but was good enough to capture the Grade 3 Natalma in her prior start. Javier Castellano rides for Mark Frostad.

The Appalachian, first run in 1989, goes as the eighth of nine Thursday races. Two allowances also are on tap: race 4, worth $58,000, is for older turf sprinters; while race 7, worth $54,000, is a Polytrack sprint for 3-year-old fillies. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

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