As an actuary and CEO of Toa Reinsurance in Morristown, N.J., Ed Stanco has made his living on calculating risks. Uncertainty comes with the territory.
That’s why he’s careful not to let a frisson of excitement over Princess of Sylmar override good judgment and experience.
Still, the Schenectady native can’t help but consider the prospect of sending her to the big stakes for 3-year-old fillies, two of which take place at his hometown track, Saratoga Race Course.
February is still young, but Stanco has visions of running his two-time stakes winner, trained by Todd Pletcher, in the Alabama on Aug. 17, or perhaps the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20.
“I always said to him, the one thing I want is to someday get my colors on that jockey,” Stanco said, referring to the jockey statues that ring the fountain at Saratoga’s clubhouse entrance. Each year, they’re painted in silks commemorating winners of the previous year’s biggest races, like the Alabama, Whitney and Travers.
“It would be the culmination of a life’s experience.”
Princess of Sylmar has won four straight and could be the one to achieve that, but it’s going to take a lot of progress and luck just to get there, much less win, which is why Stanco, a 1967 Linton High graduate, is heavy on the caution in his cautious optimism.
That’s a theme he and Pletcher have used throughout Princess of Sylmar’s development, evidenced by the fact that she stayed on the farm until July of her 2-year-old season last year, and didn’t debut on the track until October.
Stanco, whose nom de course is King of Prussia Stable, bred Majestic Warrior to his Catienus mare Storm Dixie, and he holds Sylmar Farm, the 300-acre spread operated by the Houghton family in southeastern Pennsylvania, in such high regard that he named the chestnut filly after it.
He lives 30 miles away and was able to get his first glimpse of her a few hours after she was born.
“When she was on the farm, all of a sudden you could see that she was faster than the others of her age, so we thought she’d be pretty good,” Stanco said. “Todd got her, and she seemed to do everything right. Her head was in the game, she had no discipline problems, so if she had some speed, we’d probably have something good.
“We spent a lot of time getting her used to the gate; you’ve got to get all the pieces in place.”
That said, Princess of Sylmar had an adventure in her first start, stumbling at the gate as the slight favorite to fall into last of 10 at Penn National.
She closed sharply to finish fourth and hasn’t lost since, winning four straight by a combined 383⁄4 lengths. Not a typo.
Owner and breeder purse bonuses for Pennsylvania-breds prompted Stanco to run her back at Penn National instead of chasing a bigger purse in New York, and Princess of Sylmar romped by 19 lengths going a mile to break her maiden on Nov. 8.
She won an allowance at Aqueduct in December and opened her 3-year-old campaign by taking the Busanda by 71⁄2 lengths to earn 10 points in the new Kentucky Oaks qualifying system. Last weekend, she went off as the 1-4 favorite in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Busher at Aqueduct and used another stalking trip to crush a field that included two-time stakes winner Kelli Got Frosty, who is in position to win the 2012 New York-bred 2-year-old championship.
“It was kind of strange, when you’re 1-4, it’s a lot different than when you’re a long shot,” Stanco said with a laugh. “We had about 30 people there, some of whom have never been there before, and you want to win so they’ll come back.”
Stanco has a relatively small operation, but some experience on the biggest stage.
Storm Dixie is a New York-bred who broke her maiden first time out at Saratoga, then never won again in nine more starts from 2006-08.
Besides her, he has another mare in foal, a yearling and a 2-year-old at Sylmar Farm.
As a partner in So Madcapt Stable, he rode the New York-bred Capeside Lady all the way to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 2005 at Belmont Park, where she was sixth to Pleasant Home as a 57-1 long shot.
Like Storm Dixie, Capeside Lady won first time out at Saratoga, in 2003, but she actually went on to become a seven-time stakes winner, including the Grade II Monmouth Oaks in 2004 and the Grade II Molly Pitcher in 2005.
Also unlike Storm Dixie, Capeside Lady never made it back to Saratoga, despite racing 20 more times, because she was based in New Jersey, and the Monmouth schedule interfered with Saratoga’s.
“The Breeders’ Cup was great, it was beyond our expectations,” Stanco said. “She won a lot of stakes. Going to the Breeders’ Cup, time stood still. But seeing how we bred this one, this is even better.”
Princess of Sylmar won’t race again until April 6, in the Grade II Gazelle over a mile and an eighth at Aqueduct.
She likely would need to finish at least second to earn enough points to make the Kentucky Oaks, and even then, points alone won’t necessarily convince Stanco and Pletcher that she belongs in the Oaks.
Stanco got hooked on Saratoga as a kid, when he’d ride up with his uncle, and he and his wife make “the pilgrimage” each year for about a third of the racing dates.
He’s confident that Princess of Sylmar will like nine furlongs, but beyond that is a question mark. The Alabama is a mile and a quarter.
“My own view right from the beginning is we bred her, and it took a long time, and I just really want to take our time with her,” he said. “No matter what happens with the Oaks, we think she’s quality. If she makes the Coaching Club, great. I’d love to see her in the Cotillion, because she’s a Pennsylvania-bred. But we don’t want to put her against top competition and push her if she’s going to get stressed. We certainly saw what happened to Rachel Alexandra.
“It’s a hand-crafted filly. She’ll tell us.”
MORE DOMINGUEZ PROGRESS
Ramon Dominguez, the three-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey, continues to make progress from a skull fracture suffered in a spill at Aqueduct on Jan. 18, and was released from the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in Westchester County on Wednesday.
He’ll continue outpatient rehabilitation at a hospital closer to his home on Long Island.
“Although his injury will take time to heal, Ramon is on the road to a full recovery,” his wife, Sharon, told the New York Racing Association.
For the first time since the accident, which occurred when his mount, Convocation, clipped heels, Dominguez talked to the press on Tuesday, in an interview with David Grening of the Daily Racing Form.
“I have been in great hands since I came here, doing all different types of therapies,” Dominguez told the DRF. “Everyone’s been extremely helpful. There’s really nothing I could ask to be better. I feel like everyone’s doing an excellent job getting me closer to my goal, which is to be 100 percent healthy and — whenever the doctor sees fit — for me to come back and ride.”
Dominguez will continue his rehab, and it probably won’t be for another few weeks before he’s re-examined by Dr. Barry Jordan, assistant medical director of Burke’s brain injury program.
Gulfstream Park has a blockbuster stakes card on tap, headed by the Grade I Donn Handicap, which was hurt by the defection of Mucho Macho Man.
That leaves a competitive field, though, with Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out as the morning-line favorite at 3-1, followed by Csaba at 4-1 riding a four-race winning streak, most recently Gulfstream’s Grade III Hal’s Hope by a neck over Pool Play, who is 10-1.
Soldat had been pointing to the Donn, but he was retired this week with a suspensory injury. The 5-year-old won the 2010 With Anticipation at Saratoga and the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream in 2011 before finishing 11th in the Kentucky Derby.
The head-to-head dream matchup will occur in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, where Animal Kingdom will take on Point of Entry in a six-horse field.
Point of Entry just missed out on an Eclipse Award last year when he finished second to Little Mike by a half-length in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
He had won five straight before that, including the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga.
Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Animal Kingdom has had a hard time getting to the track since finishing sixth in the Belmont Stakes in 2011, but he won a turf allowance at Gulfstream a year ago off a long layoff and just missed against Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in November.
NERUD TURNS 100
Hall of Fame trainer John Nerud, who campaigned the likes of Dr. Fager, Ta Wee and Gallant Man, turned 100 on Friday.
Nerud, one of the founders of the Breeders’ Cup, remains a director emeritus of that organization, as well as the New York Thoroughbred Breeders.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.
He owns half of Verbosity, a three-time winner on the NYRA circuit trained by Mike Hushion, and bred a Thunder Gulch colt who is a yearling now and is named Final Chapter.
ALPHA LAST IN DUBAI
Travers dead-heat winner Alpha finished last of 12 in the $250,000 Round Two of the Maktoum Challenge at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai on Thursday.
He began his 4-year-old season the same way he finished 2012 for Godolphin Racing, finishing last of 12 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In the Travers, he finished in a tie with Golden Ticket, who romped in an allowance at Gulfstream Park two weeks ago to start his 4-year-old campaign.
Despite Alpha’s race, Godolphin had four entered in the Maktoum Challenge, and won it with Hunter’s Light
The Maktoum Challenge is considered a prep for the Dubai World Cup.
More bad news for Godolphin came early Friday, when 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award winner Questing, who won the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama last year, was retired.
She was set to race as a 4-year-old, but was retired after developing pneumonia in the wake of hind ankle chip surgery this winter.
In the last race of her career, she was pulled up on the backstretch by Irad Ortiz Jr. during the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. It was discovered after the race that she had suffered an eye injury.
Questing finished her career with four wins from 11 starts for $876,876.
She will be bred to 2006 Preakness and Travers winner Bernardini.
Trainer Gary Contessa won his 2,000th race on Thursday, when he saddled Al’s Rosie to victory in the seventh race at Aqueduct.
“I thought the gods of racing were going to torture me for a couple of weeks before I won this one, so I’m glad I got it behind me,” Contessa told NYRA. “It’s great. Honestly, I can’t believe I won 2,000 races, looking back it’s unbelievable to me.”
Contessa, 55, said it’s appropriate the milestone came at Aqueduct, where he has won 12 meet titles. He has garnered 16 total NYRA meet titles and four year-end training titles on the circuit.
“Most of my wins came in the winter at Aqueduct,” he said.
DONEGAL DUBAI PLANS
Ray Bryan of Saratoga Springs, along with many of his Donegal Racing partners, have made plans to fly to Dubai in late March for the Dubai World Cup, where Dullahan is scheduled to run in the $10 million feature race.
Dullahan will travel overseas with stablemate Little Mike, who is pointed to the $5 million Sheema Classic on the turf, earlier in the month for a prep. Both are trained by Dale Romans.
Dullahan has raced on turf and conventional dirt, finishing third in the Kentucky Derby last year, but he’s done his best work on synthetics; Meydan Racecourse, site of the Dubai World Cup, uses Tapeta.
“It’s going to be great, and he’s still undefeated on synthetic, with two course records,” Bryan said.
Dullahan has three career victories, all in Grade I races, and all on synthetic.
He won the Breeders’ Futurity as a 2-year-old and the Blue Grass last year at Keeneland, then beat older horses in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Bryan, who owns a minor share in each of the last three Donegal partnership packages, said their Squall King is their one long shot to make the Kentucky Derby.
“We’re looking at the Palm Beach, and then see if we have a shot,” Bryan said. “If he does OK, then we could do the same thing as Paddy O’Prado and send him to the Blue Grass.”
Paddy O’Prado won the Palm Beach in 2010, was second in the Blue Grass and third in the Derby.
Multiple Grade I winner and notable sire Marquetry died at the age of 26 last Friday at Old Friends retirement home in Georgetown, Ky.
The son of Conquistador Cielo suffered an injury in his stall, and was euthanized.
Marquetry arrived at Old Friends in June 2010 after being pensioned from stud duty that May.
Among the 35 stakes winners he sired were two champion sprinters — Artax, winner of the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and Squirtle Squirt, who won the 2001 BC Sprint and King’s Bishop.
$15,000 WAGER DRAW
Saratoga 150, the organization in charge of Saratoga Race Course’s sesquicentennial celebration this year, is offering a drawing for five $15,000 win wagers to be placed in the Whitney, Fourstardave, Alabama, Travers and Woodward.
Money for the contest was supplied by Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson as a means of increasing the spotlight on the anniversary and how much Saratoga has meant to the sport over the years.
Registration for the fan wager drawing can be made at the sesquicentennial website www.Saratoga150.com/contest.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Sean Avery, winner of the 2011 A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga, was fifth in his 2013 debut on Tuesday, an allowance at Gulfstream.
After winning the Vanderbilt, he did not race for over a year, then raced three times last fall, winning the Affiliate, but finishing off the board in the Vosburgh and DeFrancis Dash. . . .
As eager as Starlight Racing is to run 2-year-old Eclipse Award winner Shanghai Bobby this year, they also like another one of their 3-year-olds, Park City, who is finally getting back to the races after winning his career debut by a length at Saratoga last year.
He’s the 3-1 second choice in the fifth at Gulfstream. Like Shanghai Bobby, he’s a son of Harlan’s Holiday. . . .
Apprentice jockey Pierre Tomas won his first race in North America last Friday when 41-1 Victorious Leader took the seventh race at Aqueduct Racetrack. His agent is Jean-Luc Samyn. . . .
HERE AND THERE
The National Museum of Racing is closed temporarily for an exhibit construction, but is offering a free program from 1-3 p.m. on Tuesday, “African Americans in Thoroughbred Racing,” that will include a guided tour and will highlight the history and significant contributions of African Americans to the sport through history. . . .
Shanghai Bobby and Violence were listed as co-favorites in Pool 1 of the Derby Future Wager, at 12-1, among individual horses. The All Others option among 24 betting choices is 9-5. A three-day run of wagering opened on Friday.