A Seat In The Bleachers: Stanco chose not to rest on laurels
Yes, Ed Stanco had plenty to gain.
On the other hand, he had everything to lose.
One of the most exasperating aspects of thoroughbred racing is that horses are pointed toward spots on the schedule, the choices are myriad in some cases and fans are denied intriguing matchups and appearances by the stars.
The word “managed” can be invoked in both complimentary and harsh light.
Owners and trainers draw praise when they plan a season that reaps rewards; they’re scorned when they duck difficult races. But these people pay the bills, so that’s their prerogative.
Stanco, a Schenectady native and the indefatigably amiable owner of Princess of Sylmar, had every right and plenty of reasons to skip the Breeders’ Cup this weekend, but he didn’t.
He expressed his desire to shut her down before the Breeders’ Cup months ago, even as his filly’s star continued to rise at Saratoga Race Course, where she swept the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama, two of the most important races for 3-year-old fillies in North America.
Princess of Sylmar maybe — MAYBE — would get one more race, and then that was going to be it. But no Breeders’ Cup. After a long season, she was due for a winter break, after which she would race as a 4-year-old.
A funny thing happened on the way to the farm, though.
Princess of Sylmar, bred by Stanco at the well-respected Sylmar Farm in eastern Pennsylvania, showed no signs of wanting a break.
On the contrary, she was fit, energetic and healthy, carrying her weight and chestnut coat well, and working in the early mornings like a horse who loved her job and wanted to take one more crack at greatness.
She got that one more race, beating two-time champion Royal Delta in the Beldame for her fourth straight Grade I victory, but was still on the fence to head cross country to Santa Anita Park for the Breeders’ Cup. Nevertheless … put me in, coach, she told trainer Todd Pletcher in the only way that a horse can.
So on to California they went.
Stanco was reluctant to the end, but finally was convinced by his trainer that these opportunities come so rarely that you have to take your shot when your horse is ready to roll.
Well, Princess of Sylmar didn’t roll in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Friday.
Instead, she clunked her way out of the starting gate, costing her valuable forward position, and never got in the game on a track that favored front-end speed all day. She finished last of six as Beholder roared to victory.
There were no customary chants of “Ed-die! Ed-die!” this time.
He still deserves a collective cheer from the people who follow and enjoy racing, though.
With a $2 million purse and a winner’s share of $1.1 million, the Distaff suffered no lack of cash incentive.
I feel like I’ve gotten to know Stanco, a 1967 Linton High graduate, pretty well since February, and can say with confidence that running in the Distaff was never about the money.
In fact, because she wasn’t supplemented to the Breeders’ Cup, he had to shell out $100,000 just to enter the thing.
There also were inherent risks in shipping Princess of Sylmar three thousand miles to an unfamiliar track, including the risk you take every time you put a saddle on a horse.
“No. 1, I want her to be safe, as well as the others,” Stanco said on Wednesday.
If that needed to be underscored any more clearly, the Breeders’ Cup portion of Saturday’s card got off on a horrifically bad first step when Secret Compass broke down on the turn in the Juvenile Fillies and had to be euthanized.
It’s important to remember that Princess of Sylmar is the only horse Stanco has on the track, at least until one of his younger horses starts racing next year. Before the Distaff, she had piled up over $1.5 million in purses this year and had raced once a month, except for March and June, since last October.
She’ll get her break at the plush WinStar Farm in Kentucky.
In the meantime, the other significant risk — that she would get beat — was realized, and in a way that likely will have severe implications for the year-end championships.
Stanco could have kept his filly home, content to sit on the couch and watch the Distaff on TV while contemplating what probably would have been an Eclipse Award for the top 3-year-old filly in the country.
He and his filly could’ve “managed” quite nicely without shipping to California to take on what promised to be one of the toughest fields of the weekend.
Instead, they raced, got beat, and probably surrendered the championship to Beholder in the process, a horse Princess of Sylmar defeated in the Kentucky Oaks in their only other matchup.
“Champions don’t stay home,” Stanco said by phone on Saturday.
Fact is, Princess of Sylmar was not much of a factor in the Distaff once the gate opened, but her mere presence made the buildup and anticipation for the race one of the strongest storylines of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races.
Stanco, prone to a state of wonderment since this whole spectacular ride began, had said that, as long as Princess of Sylmar was healthy, he wanted to run in the Breeders’ Cup “for history, for the fans.”
For that, racing owes him at least one more “Ed-die! Ed-die! …”