Winter Memories Made And Preserved At Darby Dan

John Phillips | Darby Dan

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Multiple graded stakes winner Winter Memories died, and not a peep about it anywhere? Seriously?” Last week's tweet sounded like a salvo.

The message's verve was driven by a quest for information. The responses underneath that query told the story, as a host of fans who loved and cheered home this gray filly by El Prado (Ire) over a decade ago, posted their sadness after hearing of her loss.

Heading out the Old Frankfort Pike at historic Darby Dan Farm, owner John Phillips made the decision not to issue a press release. He had his reasons. As he said so acutely and with deep emotion, “Actually we put her down May 16. It was time, as her hind suspensories just gave out and she was in pain to stand. She was surrounded by the staff and I held the shank.”

He also divulged that, “While I know she was a recognized mare, the loss was personal, private. We probably should have announced her passing, but that just seemed too commercial to me. Sorry if that offends anyone.”

No one is offended. It's Phillips's right. In the world of commercial Thoroughbred breeding, which at times is only understood as a series of business transactions that are attached to monetary gains and losses, there are still deep-seeded tributaries of emotion that are directly tied to family connections–both human and equine. After all, that nexus is full of blood, sweat and at times, many, many tears. No myths here: only truth. That is what Winter Memories meant to Phillips and Darby Dan.

To hear him tell it, from the very beginning Winter Memories was intimately tied to the family and the stallion farm's staff. It all started Apr. 24, 2008.

“She was born on the day we buried our mother [Joan Phillips],” he said. “She was my mother's favorite color, gray. To say Winter Memories was a sentimental favorite is an understatement.”

Out of Memories of Silver (Silver Hawk)–winner of the 1996 GI Queen Elizabeth II Challenge S. and the 1997 GI Beverly D. S. for Darby Dan–her filly would also head to Jimmy Toner's shedrow.

“Winter Memories was, like her mother Memories of Silver, a keen competitor, but was amazingly kind and gentle,” he said. “Owners always say stuff like that and most don't really know, but she was genuinely affectionate and gentle with people, especially my children.”

If you delve into her pedigree, you find that Memories of Silver was the product of five generations of Darby Dan breeding going back to Golden Trail, who Phillips says, “was a blue hen for our family.”

The Phillips Racing Partnership color-bearer had an unbelievable turn of foot in deep stretch, which Darby Dan's owner has said on several occasions was best exhibited in the GI Garden City S. Sept. 17 at Belmont Park during her 3-year-old season. Her stakes haul also included victories in the GIII Miss Grillo S., the GIII Appalachian S., the GII Lake George S. and a runner-up finish in the GII Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. The GI Diana S. at Saratoga was her last when she was forced into retirement due to a degenerative bone disease.

“Over the many decades that our family has been the stewards of this land and these equine families, we have been blessed with some incredible equine talent. Although Winter Memories was never declared a champion because we stopped her career after her Diana win in Saratoga, she was without a doubt one of the best fillies I have ever had the privilege of witnessing,” said Phillips.

As a broodmare, Winter Memories produced MGSP Winter Sunset (Tapit) and also her full-sister GISP Seasons. More recently, she is responsible for a 2-year-old colt named American Memories (American Pharoah).

And her last produce of record?

Phillips quickly advised, “Her last foal is a Mendelssohn yearling filly who will never see a sales ring.”

Buried at Darby Dan, Winter Memories rests alongside her mother as a close family member held tight by John Phillips for good reason. She'll also be remembered well every year when her eponymous stakes race goes off each September during the Belmont Park meet.

As the commercial market takes a backseat, now the news is out there. Lest we forget, for the family and the fans, may Winter Memories rest in peace.

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