Down The Stretch: Princess of Sylmar likely best in class

If it’s possible to have clinched a div­isional championship this early in the year, Princess of Syl

If it’s possible to have clinched a div­isional championship this early in the year, Princess of Sylmar did it on Saturday.

Sweeping four-wide around the leaders approaching the quarter-pole, Princess of Sylmar opened the lead in upper stretch and went on to a comfortable 21⁄2-length victory over Fiftyshadesofhay in the Grade I Alabama. The popular victory, coupled with her prior wins in the prestigious Kentucky Oaks and the Coaching Club American Oaks, make Princess of Sylmar — unquestionably — the finest 3-year-old filly in the land.

But there’s a lot of racing left on the 2013 calendar, although I’m not sure how much more there is for Princess of Sylmar. It appears, at least at this time, that owner Ed Stanco, a Schenectady native and Linton High graduate, is thinking about taking a conservative

approach with her. The filly has made nine career starts, all coming over the past 10 months.

Stanco desperately wants a healthy and sound 4-year-old for next year, but do you stop on an athlete who is doing so well. And while Princess of Sylmar is currently in a great position to win a championship, with some important fall races, and the Breeders’ Cup looming on the horizon, it’s possible someone could ‘steal’ the championship from her.

If either Beholder, who was second behind her in the Kentucky Oaks, or Close Hatches, who beat Princess of Sylmar earlier this year, should win a major fall stakes and then go on to capture the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, it would give Eclipse voters something to think about.

But at least for the present time, all Stanco has to think about is having won one of the great races in the world. And he did it at his “home” track.

When I interviewed him Saturday morning, some seven hours prior to the race, and asked him what it would mean to him to win the Alabama, and see his name and silks on the Alabama statue for the next year, Stanco became very emotional. “It would mean everything,” he said.

When Chad Brown spoke with his jockey, Joe Bravo, prior to the Grade I Sword Dancer — a three-turn turf marathon — Brown told him that, “the first two turns belong to me, the last is yours.” Translated, that means make absolutely certain you save ground around the first two turns, then do what you have to do turning for home.

Well, Bravo got the message, as he put up a brilliant ride aboard Big Blue Kitten to win the Sword Dancer by a length over Twilight Eclipse. If you get an opportunity to watch this replay, pay close attention to the trips that the winner and runner-up, who both had inside posts, got compared to the favorite, the Shug McGaughey-trained Boisterous.

Trips are critical in turf racing, and you couldn’t realistically get better trips than both Big Blue Kitten and Twilight Eclipse got. Not only did Brown win the Sword Dancer for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, but he won the Arlington Million for them, as well, with Real Solution. Quite a day for the Mechanicville native.

McGaughey’s top turf horse, Point of Entry, is recovering from an injury and subsequent surgery. The trainer is hopeful that Point of Entry, who last raced in, and won, the June 8 Manhattan, will return early enough this fall to race once prior to the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

But, according to McGaughey, even if he can’t get a prep race, he’s confident that Point of Entry can be trained up to the Breeders’ Cup Turf. McGaughey feels that there is ‘a better than 50 percent chance of Point of Entry making it back to the races.

What a terrible way to get the lengthy Saturday card started. In the opener — a $20,000 claiming turf sprint for limited winners — Heading to Toga, who had pressed the early pace while trying to lug out, broke down just past the wire and had to be euthanized. Her rider, Jose Espinoza, was thrown to the turf face-first, remaining nearly motionless for several minutes before being removed on a stretcher. He suffered a broken nose and a concussion.

To add insult to injury, Espinoza was scheduled to ride G W’s Hammer, who won the third race. This was the second fatality of the meet, the first on grass. Fantastic Eyes survived a claim of foul to win the race as the favorite, giving trainer Joe Aquilino his first victory at the meet.

Wayne Lukas scored his first win of the meet — with his 32nd starter —in the second when Strong Mandate went wire-to-wire at 16-1 to break his maiden. A distant fifth in his debut here in his last, Lukas added blinkers while stretching the son of Tiznow out, and it resulted in a handy 41⁄2-length score.

Clear Mandate, the dam of the winner, won the Grade I Spinster and $1 million during her career, and Strong Mandate is a half-brother to Newfoundland, who won $677,000 during her career. Tapiture, who debuted for Steve Asmussen, chased throughout while finishing second. Crescent, stretching out off a fast-closing third in his debut here in last, wound up the slight favorite and was awful, finishing last, beaten 23-lengths.

Rebranded, the close second choice who didn’t want to load, broke a half-step slow from the inside post and finished a non-threatening third. First Bid, a first-timer from Brown, was scratched. Brown told me that First Bid, a son of Street Sense whose two siblings to race were a combined 1-for-19, can run some, but will be better later, as the races get longer.

Jockey Joe Rocco Jr., who has been enjoying an outstanding meet, took off his mounts following the fifth race. Rocco was complaining of a sore back. He entered Saturday’s card with 12 wins, putting him in a tie for seventh.


There were a number of workouts of note here Saturday morning. Moreno, who set the pace and held gamely when third in the Jim Dandy in last, worked five furlongs in 59.68 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.20. Eric Guillot trains the Dwyer winner who likely will set the pace in next Saturday’s Travers.

Guillot also sent out Salutos Amigos, who worked five furlongs in 1:02.53 prepping for Saturday’s King’s Bishop. Travers long shot War Dancer breezed five furlongs in company in 1:02.33. Ken McPeek, who got a piece of last year’s Travers, trains the War Front colt, who is winless in one career start on dirt.

Lighthouse Bay, who upset the Prioress here in last, giving trainer George Weaver his first Grade I win in the United States, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.21 in advance of Saturday’s Test Stakes. Fellow Test probable, Baby J, the winner of the Victory Ride at Belmont in last, worked six furlongs in 1:14.50.

Finally, Mucho Macho Man, a perfect-trip third in the Whitney, breezed six furlongs in 1:14.43 in preparation for the Aug. 31 Woodward.

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