Cup of Coffee: Real Fairytale

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The clapping in the paddock before the race, perhaps that was too much. The “Eddie…Eddie…Eddie” chant after the race, definitely too much, but endearing at the same time. Princess of Sylmar brought a crowd of revelers to Saratoga for Saturday’s Coaching Club American Oaks. Partners, fans, friends, bandwagon hitchhikers – they were excited before the race. Ecstatic afterwards.

Bred by Ed Stanco and owned by Stanco and Co.’s King of Prussia Stable, Princess of Sylmar won her second consecutive Grade 1 stakes, humbling four rivals in the $300,000 race for 3-year-old fillies. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who reels off wins like he’s tromping divots, was even touched by the performance of the filly and the achievement of Stanco. 

“It’s a one-in-a-million chance that it all happens this way,” said Pletcher, after explaining his relationship with Stanco that dates back to Capeside Lady in 2003. “That’s one of the cool things about the game, a guy like Ed Stanco can breed one mare and win the Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club and compete against all the biggest owners in the world.”

Stanco knows the odds.

An insurance executive who now lives in Pennsylvania, Stanco grew up in Schenectady and visited Saratoga for the first time around 1960. He and his uncle came to the races, watched the horses rush out of the Wilson Mile chute, he remembers Bowler King winning here. His wife Ina loved Onion against Secretariat, he forgot to place the bet for her, the picture hangs in his basement. He was here for Affirmed and Alydar. And lots of other races, moments.

“Oh my God, to think, my first race here was when they had the Wilson Mile over here, my uncle took me, we were sitting on the rail, I thought, ‘wow,’ ” Stanco said, pointing in the direction of the Horse Shoe Inn. “Then when we first got married, my wife and I would come here, we’d have 20 bucks to bet, in the grandstand, looking at the clubhouse and say, ‘Who are all these people?’ Years later, how did this happen? You wake up one day and it’s a different world. It’s a dream.”

It began with Capeside Lady ­- actually Bowler King –  then continued with Storm Dixie. The New York-bred daughter of Catienus won her debut for King of Prussia and Pletcher at Saratoga in 2006. She finished second in the Crockadore Stakes at Belmont, but failed to win again.

At the end of 2008, she was sporting a 1-for-10 record and $63,189 in earnings. The stock market had crashed, the breeding market was crashing – Stanco saw opportunity.

“It was a terrible market, all that discretionary money came out of the market, that’s the money that goes into the horses,” Stanco said. “I said, ‘There are professional breeders who are cutting their losses, I’m not a professional breeder, so if I go in low, what better time? What can I lose?’ It can only go in one direction so we decided to breed her and here we are.”

Storm Dixie met Coolmore’s Majestic Warrior in 2009. Princess of Sylmar came in 2010. The Pennsylvania-bred has done it the hard way, beginning with forays to Penn National, spending the winter at Aqueduct while the Pletcher princesses danced in the sun of South Florida and then elbowing her way to the podium with an upset score in the Kentucky Oaks and a dominant win in the CCA Oaks.

“All we ever wanted to do was win a race and here we are. Do things change? No, that’s all we want, here at my home track. It’s cool,” Stanco said, while still accepting congratulations an hour after the race. “We just never expected this and here we are, she’s delivering the goods. I’m glad we can support her, I didn’t do it, I just write the checks.”

And appreciate the moment.

Fourstardave never had followers and fans like Stanco did Saturday. They came from Schenectady, Saratoga, Pennysylvania, New Jersey…Tokyo. Neophytes and hardened race fans, they recognized the enormity of winning a Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga, with a homebred, your only homebred, your only horse in training.

“How about those people on the apron at Aqueduct in the winter who are betting on her and liking her?” Stanco said. “They had to drop 20 on her in the Oaks. You know they bet her today, that’s really cool.”

At a moment of ebullience in Saratoga, Stanco was thinking about bettors at Aqueduct, about their $20. He’ll keep his perspective.

“All we want to do is keep her from being stressed. I don’t care if Todd came back tomorrow and said we’re not going to race her for six months or ever,” Stanco said. “That’s the point, you have to love the Thoroughbred. I guess a lot of owners don’t necessarily feel that way. Guys will say to me, ‘Gee, that’s great. How do I get in?’ I say, ‘No, you’ll get in and you’ll get tired of it real quick, unless you really love it.’ “