Ed Stanco was in eighth grade when he was one of the spectators in the stands at Linton High School to watch Lew Alcindor and Power Memorial play Pat Riley and the Blue Devils.
Those two players went on to NBA stardom and championships, while Stanco went about the business of crunching numbers, far from any spotlight, working his way up in the world of insurance.
On Friday, though, Stanco was the one in the spotlight in his sport of choice, raising the silver trophy and accepting chants of “Ed-die, Ed-die” in the Churchill Downs infield after his filly, Princess of Sylmar, upset the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at odds of 38-1.
It was a remarkable victory for the principal owner of King of Prussia Stable, since it’s the first horse Stanco has ever bred and is the only horse he is racing, for the time being.
Princess of Sylmar also had to overcome a rough start under Mike Smith and beat a star-studded field that included the Eclipse Award-winning Beholder, Dreaming of Julia, Unlimited Budget and Close Hatches, who beat Princess of Sylmar in the Gazelle on April 6.
“Indescribable,” Stanco said. “I’m maybe a little more calm than an hour before the race.”
“We were on the fence, and then we had a great work on Saturday. I’ve always said that if she’s happy and has no stress, then let’s give it a shot.”
Princess of Sylmar was more likely to skip the Oaks for the Black-Eyed Susan on Preakness weekend, but her breeze last weekend confirmed for trainer Todd Pletcher and Stanco that she would like the Churchill surface.
Pletcher works for some of the most well-known and visible owners in racing, but the Pennsylvania-bred Princess of Sylmar’s win was one for the little guys.
Stanco’s best horse had been Capeside Lady, a three-time New York-bred champion who ran in the Breeders’ Cup.
“There’s some guys like Ed who have one horse, and there’s some guys like [Mike] Repole who talk to you two hours a day, and there’s owners like Ed who talk to you two or three minutes a week,” Pletcher said. “Ed has a very good feel for racing. He has a very good understanding and is a very good handicapper. We were always very realistic. She was a Pennsylvania-bred, and we wanted to develop her and take advantage of that. But she just kept getting better and better.”
Breaking from the No. 6 post, Princess of Sylmar was involved in a crunching start that also involved Pure Fun, Dreaming of Julia and Rose to Gold, who started a domino effect by cutting to her left.
“I could see Dreaming of Julia’s head right here,” Smith said, pointing to the space in front of him, “and there was another horse between her and us.
“It seemed like three jocks on one horse, almost. They squeezed us over pretty hard.”
Princess of Sylmar recovered without a hitch and was able to settle behind fast fractions set by Midnight Lucky, Beholder and Unlimited Budget.
Beholder took the lead inside the quarter pole and dug in from there, but didn’t quiet have enough to hold off Princess of Sylmar as she methodically rolled down the middle of the track to take the lead in the final yards and win by a half-length.
“I kept telling people that if they go fast early — and Mike Smith is very good at getting horses to settle — it wouldn’t shock me,” said Pletcher, who had three of the top four finishers.
Stanco frequently tells people that his dream is to get one of the jockey statues at the Saratoga Race Course clubhouse entrance painted in the colors of his silks, signifying a win in one of Saratoga’s biggest races.
In Princess of Sylmar’s case, that would be the Alabama, but Stanco said that’s too far in the future to think about and that he would rely on Pletcher’s judgment in picking her next start.
“This was the big one,” Stanco said.
Noble Tune won the Grade II American Turf for trainer Chad Brown, for his fourth win in five career starts.
Noble Tune debuted with a win on the turf at Saratoga, and his only loss was a second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
If there were any questions about whether John Velazquez would be healthy enough to ride Verrazano in the Derby after suffering a broken rib and wrist last month, he answered them by winning the La Troienne in a terrific stretch duel with On Fire Baby.
Velazquez’s other mount on the card was Dreaming of Julia in the Oaks, so he’ll come into Derby Day with just three races since returning from the injuries.
“I’m feeling great; it’s great to be here,” Velazquez said.
So Many Ways, winner of the Schuylerville on opening day at Saratoga Race Course and the Spinaway on closing weekend, got back on the winning track after two losses by winning the Eight Belles by a half-length over Fusaichiswonderful.
The 19 horses running in the 139th Kentucky Derby have scant experience on a rain-soaked track on what promises to be a muddy day at Churchill Downs.
Brown said Normandy Invasion hasn’t even trained on an off track, so he has no idea whether he’ll take to it or not.
The rest of the trainers are pretty much in the same boat.
“I don’t like to train them on a wet track because I prefer to keep them healthy,” Brown said. “I don’t know if you can teach them to like it, anyway. We’re going to find out with him. People tell me that his breeding for the mud is the highest in the race. Great. I love hearing that, but I don’t know how much I put into that all the time as a trainer.”
“He trained on one here and trained excellent,” trainer Shug McGaughey said of Orb. “I don’t think it’ll be a problem. Mud in his face isn’t going to bother him, because he’s gotten plenty of dirt.”
“From my thoughts, I think Lawyer Ron handled it well,” Eddie Plesa said of Itsmyluckyday’s sire. “You’d hope he’d pass it along, if that were the case. I’ve been saying this all along: I just want everybody to have a fair chance to win.”