Jimmy Toner: Developing Racehorses by Pedigree

Courtesy of the Blood Horse
By Michael Adolphson

These wonderful horses were prepared for racing at Kirkwood Stables.

Trainer Jimmy Toner is quick to deflect praise and put it where he believes it belongs.

When it comes to all he has done in seven decades of training and his many accomplishments, he swiftly points to the horse with admirable humility. This focus on the individual animal is what makes him so good at his job. Winning graded stakes nearly as long as the graded stakes system has been in place (50 since 1976), the 14-time grade 1 winner has succeeded at the top level on a grand spectrum, from grade 1-winning juvenile dirt fillies like Buzz My Bell and I’m Splendid to hard-knocking graded stakes-winning turf stayers like Gritty Sandie.

Turf fillies and mares, though—one of the trickiest bands to orchestrate—have scored Toner the most platinum for his trophy case. Holding his own against the Frankels, Motts, and Browns of racing in this genre, he has an enviable catalog, having saddled such ladies of the lawn as Soaring Softly, Memories of Silver, Wonder Again, Winter Memories, Tribulation, Recepta, La Cloche, Masseuse, Gastronomical, Coney Kitty, I’m Indy Mood, Sagasious, and most recently Time and Motion.

Together they have combined to win 35 graded events in this division, including 10 grade 1 races, with the majority of those being the fruits of a deeply rooted partnership with Darby Dan Farm.

“I think the key with doing well, especially with these fillies, is to start by knowing the families,” Toner said. “I’ve been very fortunate to train for John and the Phillips family. These horses have the foundation of generations of exceptional mares and that is why they do so well. I try to stay out of their way and develop them as best I can—but that foundation, it’s a privilege to have that.”

“Jimmy is very hands-on and totally involved with each horse each day and I think that’s helped a lot,” added Darby Dan owner John Phillips. “We also work particularly well because he respects my request for info on the breeding side. I like to know what the next generation is like; their flaws, strengths, and temperaments. It also helps him to do well because he’s already really familiar with these families.

“His talent is that he recognizes the pedigree and does not try to make a horse what it’s not. He’s also not one to cut out 12-second fractions in a workout and does a more traditional turf workout, letting a horse build his momentum in a way that complements the Ribot core of a lot of these pedigrees. He’s multitalented, but his best talent is his proclivity to maximize each horse as an individual.”

The Philadelphia native who trained his first winner during the Eisenhower administration has accomplished plenty, but he isn’t slowing down by any means. His quality-laden stable will be on the march on multiple fronts July 8, one day after the veteran horseman turns 77 years young.

Back at his New York base, he sends out Michael J. Ryan’s live longshot Violet Blue in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1T), while in Chicago, Time and Motion will be the morning-line 7-5 headliner in the Modesty Handicap (G3T) and Manitoulin—a son of Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T) and Eclipse champion Soaring Softly—is a serious threat in Arlington Handicap (G3T). A top-three finish by either of the last two gives them a free roll into the Beverly D. (G1T) and Arlington Million (G1T), respectively.

Time and Motion looks for her first win of the year and to end a three-race skid. After taking the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Presented by Lane’s End (G1T) in October at Keeneland, the daughter of Tapit  finished sixth in consecutive top-level events, including the Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1T) at the Lexington oval to kick off her 4-year-old campaign.

Thought of highly enough to start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T) as a maiden—finishing fifth beaten less than two lengths—she appears poised to improve upon a three-quarter-length third last out in the May 13 Beaugay Stakes (G3T) at Belmont Park.

“She’s doing very well now, she just had a bump on the road,” Toner explained. “She was going to run at Monmouth in a stakes and we were trying to get her back into a rhythm. Then she drew the 13-hole and we decided not to go there. We tried to get her into the New York (Stakes), but she got an infection. Now she’s training well and everything is good and she shipped well to Arlington. It’s a good spot for her, because if I didn’t run there, I’d have to wait until the Diana Stakes (G1T) againstLady Eli and Hawskmoor and that would be a bad idea.

“She’s eager to train and loves her job like a lot of my good fillies,” he continued. “She’s very aggressive around the barn, like a lot of Tapits. She has no real bad habits and all in all she’s been very good to be around. I got ahead of myself starting in the Jenny Wiley against Lady Eli because she wasn’t 100%, but she only got beat 3 lengths.

“She ran a good race over a deep and soft surface in the Beaugay and it’s not for nothing to run behind Hawksmoor, who is a good filly we beat in the Queen Elizabeth after she went toe-to-toe with Catch a Glimpse early. We’re excited to get her back going here and our goal would obviously be the Breeders’ Cup, but we’ll take it race-by-race and not get ahead of ourselves.”

Drawing parallels to many of Toner’s top turf distaffers, Time and Motion appears primed to improve with maturity. In personality, she is more on the assertive side like Soaring Softly, while her style on the track mirrors such talented accelerators as Memories of Silver and Winter Memories.

“Memories of Silver was pretty straight-forward and great to train, but she had her ways about her,” Toner said. “You could put a kid on her and lead her around the shed-row, but in the afternoon, she would pump herself up when you put on the tack. In the Ballston Spa (G3T), she split horses herself. She just put her head in there and went right through under Jerry Bailey. She was something else. Winter Memories (her daughter) was exciting to watch run and had a tremendous move the last part, but she knew she was a queen and wanted to be left alone.

“Wonder Again was fragile and had a nervous temperament about her. You had to be careful and handle her with kid gloves all the time, paying attention to everything, but she gave you everything and that’s what made her so good. La Cloche (another daughter of Memories of Silver) was underrated, extremely tough and she passed that on to her daughter (2017 stakes winner) Bellavais, who tried to bite another horse’s jockey during a race after he accidentally hit her with a stick.

“Soaring Softly was in a class of her own, but she was more like a machine. She had no personality and just wanted to do her job. She was just tough and I’ll never forget trying to saddle her for the Breeders’ Cup. She was trying to jump over the pony and I’m there thinking this is the biggest day of my life and I don’t even think I can get the saddle on her. Many of my other top fillies liked the attention, but she was all business and she showed that on the track. She’d grind them down and when you hooked up with her you were in trouble.”

Manitoulin is apparently a chip off the Soaring Softly block. Brought along gingerly through his juvenile and sophomore campaigns, the son of Awesome Again   was notoriously difficult to handle and had a surplus of energy. Unfortunately, that vigor did not translate to immediate success for the blue-blood on the track, requiring six races and seven months to graduate in June 2016. Since then, Toner and Phillips decided to geld the chestnut, hoping it would divert his enthusiasm to more productive ventures.

Such was successful, as he has won both of his starts this year; both in allowance company. It was the second time the surgeon’s table proved advantageous for his future, as he came into the world one “lucky” foal on St. Patrick’s Day 2013—a month overdue and via a high-risk Cesarean procedure because of his late dam’s cervical issues.

“I’ve had several out of Soaring Softly, but he’s the only one out of her that I’ve had that is ‘her,'” Toner said. “He’s the same as her and wants to be a little on the nasty side. She would give you everything she’s got and now he’s focused like that and much more fluid. Before he would lose focus and we couldn’t get any consistency out of him. He would never get beat far, but would do that after giving little effort. I’m excited to run him at 5 and 6, now, and I think he’s still on the improve.”

“Soaring Softly was very tough-minded and Manitoulin got a very strong dose of that—too strong, to be honest—so we reintroduced him to the surgeon’s knife, so that he could take that energy and focus it toward being a racehorse,” Phillips said. “He wasn’t mean, but he was highly aggressive and it compromised his talent. Now he obviously is a much better horse.

“Therein lies the secret of Jimmy and his success,” Phillips concluded. “For Manitoulin to be performing at the level he’s doing so on Saturday, it’s not only a compliment to the pedigree, but also to Jimmy knowing that pedigree and applying his talents. It’s special to take a horse you’ve been that close with and had those expectations to a grade 3, and Jimmy is a big part of that.”