High-dollar Princess

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Princess of Sylmar is off to Japan. Well, maybe not at exactly this moment, but shortly after the hammer dropped, the bid board stopped at $3,100,000 and the buyer was revealed, it was only a matter of time before the daughter of Majestic Warrior would be on a plane for the Far East.

Princess of Sylmar sold Monday night at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale in Lexington, marking the end of her time in the U.S. that started humbly on a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania and reached stratospheric heights with victories in Kentucky and New York. She was purchased by Teruya Yoshida’s Shadai Farm of Japan.

Ed Stanco bred and raced Princess of Sylmar in the name of his King of Prussia Stable and the named the filly after the Houghton family’s Sylmar Farm in Lancaster County’s Amish country where she was born.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Princess of Sylmar won nine of 15 starts and earned $2,017,220. She won six of eight starts as a 3-year-old and probably would have landed the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly if she didn’t head to the West Coast to run in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita. Stanco was bullish, made the sporting gesture and rolled the dice. Princess of Sylmar finished sixth as Beholder, a filly she defeated in the Kentucky Oaks earlier in the year, won to lock up the championship.

Stanco said earlier this fall that he had no regrets about that choice or with the decision to sell Princess of Sylmar. He spent some time with This Is Horse Racing’s Tom Law to discuss Princess of Sylmar and her brilliant career.

This Is Horse Racing: Discuss the decision to retire Princess of Sylmar and sell her in the November sale.
Ed Stanco:
Mixed emotions. You know its over. The racing is finished. Someone else may race her, although I don’t know if that will happen or not. So the racing is over and it’s sad in it’s own way. I guess it’s not sad, it’s just natural.

TIHR: Plenty of racing fans were sad to see her retire.
The most amazing part to me is the outpouring I hear from people. It’s incredible how popular she is. It’s sort of shocks me and my wife and my kids about how popular she became. That brings us a lot of joy that so many people became very supportive of Princess and really like her. It’s incredible.

TIHR: What was it that made her so special to you and so many?
There were a few things. The first element was the fact that she was a PA-homebred and everyone would always say, ‘well, she started out at Penn National and she went on to do all of this.’ Well, that added to the popularity. But as my son said, ‘it wasn’t in spite of starting out at Penn National it was because she started at Penn National.’ The reason for that is we wanted to start out at a place where she could win and get confidence. But being a PA-homebred, people used to say ‘the little filly from Pennsylvania.’ That sort of added to it.

The second thing was Todd decided to go the winter route at Aqueduct and not bring her to Florida. So she was sort of hidden there. She was not one of the big ones that year. She wasn’t Unlimited Budget, Dreaming of Julia, Beholder. She was below the radar screen so when she emerged that had it’s own surprise.

The third reason her popularity grew was because, similar to Zenyatta I think, when horses have that come from behind kick where everyone waits and says, ‘when are they going to go? When are they going to go? Then, all of a sudden, as Tom Durkin said in the Alabama, ‘there she goes, picking them off one, two, three.’ It gives a human element. People are thinking, ‘when is she going to decide to make the move?’ Unlike an early speed horse where they just get out there and they go. It seems to add a level of intelligence, people wait for it, and that happened clearly with Zenyatta. That’s why Zenyatta was so exciting. It was always, ‘is she going to get there? Is she going to get there?’

The fourth element was simply, we brought a lot of people to the track. For the Alabama, the Thursday before I was on Andy Serling’s show At the Post Live in Saratoga and he said, ‘Ed, how many people are you going to have in the winner’s circle?’ and I looked at the crowd and said, ‘if you’re here, you bet on Princess, come to the winner’s circle.’ And they did. That all started to build the popularity.

TIHR: When did you know she was a filly with a following?
Even back when she won the Busanda, in January of 2013, and she had that killer finish, I started to get stuff. I got something from a lady that did a movie in Russia about her. It was either that race or the Busher. What I’ve found, for some reason, is fillies capture the hearts of young girls. I know that. I see it. I’m shocked. We didn’t have daughters, we have granddaughters, but I’m shocked with these young girls how passionate they get about horses. They really do. So it all builds.

TIHR: Let’s talk about the Kentucky Oaks and the weeks leading up to that race. She finished second in the Gazelle and you thought about not going on, right?
In the Gazelle, after the race was over and they brought them back, I said, ‘Todd, I guess we won’t go to the Oaks.’ He said ‘no, with a filly this good you go, that’s what you do.’ He said to ship her to Kentucky. I didn’t think we would go, right there at that moment. But after they ran the Wood Memorial and the fractions came out, and I don’t remember what they were, but when I saw them I said, ‘wow, we really went very fast the first 6 furlongs of that race.’ I said to Karen Johnson from HRTV, ‘Karen, we’ll definitely go out to Kentucky, why not?’

TIHR: She worked twice at Churchill, from what I understand one was so-so, one was good.
The first workout, and this is all a tribute to Todd and his genius to training horses. After he said, ‘look, she ran fine but it wasn’t what I was looking for. There’s something. I can’t really describe it, the best way I can describe it is she was spinning her wheels. She runs fine, she’s healthy but she just wasn’t taking to the track.’ This is what we’ll do, next week I’ll put her on the outside and I’ll put her stablemate on the inside.’ … He switched them around and she worked really well.

Then it came time, do we go there or the Black-Eyed Susan? That was our fallback race. We had a phone conversation that Saturday. That afternoon we were talking, I said, ‘we’re already there, if we wait for the Black-Eyed Susan it will be three weeks instead of one week to the Oaks. Anything can happen in that three-week period with horses. If we think she’s on her game, we’re there and the field for the Black-Eyed Susan is still going to be a very good field, it always is, and besides that one of the partners I have his wife already went out and bought the big hat so we’ve got to go.’ Todd said, ‘let’s do it.’

Then he said, ‘who do we use for a jockey?’ Javier (Castellano) was already committed to Unlimited Budget. Rosie (Napravnik) was committed. I said, we can always go back and see if we can get Rajiv, who rode her in an allowance race, or Chris DeCarlo, who has been a friend of our family for 10 years. We can go to Chris or Rajiv. Todd called me back a little later and asked about Mike Smith. Mike was available. I said that was perfect.

Mike had never been on her. We’re out there in the paddock and it was the first time I had ever met Mike, who is a terrific guy. He comes in the paddock and Todd was busy saddling Dreaming of Julie and Unlimited Budget and all that stuff and I had free time with him. So I said, ‘look, this is what I’ll tell you and Todd is going to tell you. There’s a lot of speed in the race and all you’ve got to do is sit back with her, keep her tucked in and when you bring her out, touch her once on the right side and she will explode. All you’ve got to do is let her run.’

TIHR: Javier wound up getting the mount back for the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.
Mike Smith was committed to Royal Delta in the Delaware Handicap. Todd called Javier’s agent – Javier was riding in a race in Turkey that he rides in every year – and offered the mount. Javi called me and said, ‘I got the call. I’m back on the Princess. Yes. Yes.’ He was so excited.

TIHR: There are certainly some interesting ties with Mike Smith, who rode Royal Delta against Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame.
In the Beldame, Mike Smith had the quote. After the race he goes, ‘on the turn I heard hoof (beats) on my side and I knew it was her.’ It’s such a great story.

TIHR: Winning the races against 3-year-old fillies was certainly great, but beating Royal Delta was certainly on another level, do you agree?
When we were in the paddock before the Beldame, Todd was saddling Princess and Royal Delta goes walking by. I turned around and said, ‘Todd, you didn’t tell me that she was a monster. She’s huge, a tank.’

Our view was if Princess could hang, and even though Royal Delta was such a locomotive, that if Princess could just hang with her she would have a better turn of foot, which she did. Everyone said, and I’ve talked to Bill Mott about this … people said, ‘well, Royal Delta might have been tailing off.’ The fact of the matter is that was the fastest 9 furlongs Royal Delta ever ran in her career right there in the Beldame. That was truly magical. … (Before the Beldame,) Royal Delta dominated in the Delaware Handicap and the Personal Ensign.”

TIHR: Speaking of the Delaware Handicap, you learned something about Princess of Sylmar in this year’s race.
Bill Mott told me that the race before the Del ‘Cap, and the reason (Royal Delta) didn’t was because she had a case of the thumps. Just like Princess. They got by that and she ran well. We hoped to do the same this year. We had the slow pace in the Delaware Handicap … there was the muddy track but she did have the thumps. … Todd really believed that before the Personal Ensign that she was training stronger than she did before the Alabama last year. He felt she was going to dominate.

TIHR: Her performance in the Personal Ensign (finishing fifth, beaten 13 1/4 lengths) got you thinking of retirement.
Last year she had run from October of 2012 straight through to the Breeders’ Cup without a break. So this year Todd’s plan was to start her out lightly, start late and give her a lot of time off and then just build her up throughout the year. The Cat Cay, the Ogden Phipps and the Del ‘Cap, but then she started to tail off.”

TIHR: But not before some great memories.
She has the unique distinction of beating two Eclipse Award winners in the same year. She beat Royal Delta and she beat Beholder. She beat everybody. We felt it was the right thing to do, to send her out there for the Breeders’ Cup (in 2013). The money, obviously the money was very enticing. She had won the four Grade 1s in a row and she was fine, so we said maybe she’ll get five and it will be history.

Then she overheated in paddock … and it all came crashing down. I thought the race was over before she went into the starting gate. What a run though.

That’s why I can’t be sad, when we look back at it. I tell people, I say I feel like I’m a little kid who dreamed about having a horse, went to bed at night, had this phenomenal dream, woke up and said, ‘gee, did this really happen?’ It did. It’s crazy.”