Ed Stanco stood near the replay screens on the ground floor of the Saratoga Race Course clubhouse on Friday afternoon and gave a virtual tour of his childhood.
Pointing in one direction, where now stand painted jockey statues, he recounted how he would watch horses start from the long-since dismantled Wilson Mile chute.
His finger roved to the backyard, where he and his uncle and friends would set up shop for the day.
The 1967 Linton High School graduate will be in a box seat today, presumably with little use for the actual seat.
The only horse he has racing, Princess of Sylmar, is the slight favorite in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks, after winning the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at odds of 38-1 at Churchill Downs on May 3.
Sweating profusely in the 90-degree heat, but glowing with energy and excitement, he looked around the clubhouse in wonder and said, “It’s unexplainable, right? I mean, how do I explain all this? It’s
beyond a lifetime dream.”
Stanco drove up from his home in New Jersey on Friday and brought his son, Eric, and some friends who had never been to Saratoga through the Nelson Avenue entrance past the fountain and the jockey statues.
Perhaps next year, one (or two) will be painted in the purple King of Prussia Stable silks with the big light-blue “V” on the chest.
In the meantime, Stanco hasn’t slept in weeks, he said, and replays “every footstep of that last race, everyday, when I go to bed, when I wake up in the morning.”
“Having a favorite, the pressure’s on,” Stanco said. “But here, it’s kind of funny, because she developed a fan base in New York for the winter tracks. And you know those people, all over, especially anyone who bet $2 on her in the Oaks, they’re all cheering for her. So she really has developed a fan base, which makes it so much fun.”
Stanco, the CEO of Toa Reinsurance in Morristown who moved to New Jersey to start a family in 1979, has been in big races before.
He was a partner in So Madcapt Stable when the owners went to the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Distaff with the New York-bred Capeside Lady, who finished sixth at 57-1.
This is vastly different, though.
Not only did Stanco breed Princess of Sylmar, a daughter of Majestic Warrior out of the Catienus mare Storm Dixie, but she’ll be chasing a Grade I stakes at his beloved hometown track.
After her Oaks win, by a half-length over 2012 2-year-old filly champion Beholder, Stanco has been getting tweets and calls from fans who have embraced the chestnut filly, including a YouTube montage of her races and works put together by a woman in Russia.
Another woman in New York did a painting of Princess of Sylmar and sent a copy to Stanco.
“I haven’t slept in weeks,” Stanco said. “Over the last week, I’ve watched the race only two or three times. Before that, I watched it hundreds of times. It never gets old.
“Everything came together, and we just truly feel blessed. We think she’s very special. As we said in January, we don’t want to stress her or overpush her. Just let her run her race, and she’s done that every time. It’s beyond special.”
“What’s great about horse racing is a guy like Ed Stanco can breed a mare that he ran [Storm Dixie] and have her first foal, and she’s an Oaks winner,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “That’s great for the game when a small breeder like that can accomplish something like that. I think it gives everyone hope.”
Princess of Sylmar is 9-5 on the morning line, followed by 2-1 Unlimited Budget, whose third in the Kentucky Oaks led to a shot against males in the Belmont Stakes, where she was sixth.
Stanco’s filly will regain the services of jockey Javier Castellano, who has ridden four of the five CCA Oaks fillies, including Princess of Sylmar’s second to Close Hatches in the Beldame.
Mike Smith was on Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks, but had a commitment to ride Royal Delta in the Delaware Oaks today.
The Gazelle-Kentucky Oaks sequence, after a bit of break, follows a pattern similar to what would be an attempt at both the CCA Oaks and Alabama at this meet.
“The idea was let her get a layoff, let her relax, and come back,” Stanco said. “She should be able to show her stuff [today], the idea being that you don’t want to burn her out before the Alabama.”
“She won’t need a race; she’s ready,” Pletcher said.
She’s also up against some tough competition, even if the field is short.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown will saddle My Happy Face for the second time, after she won the listed Lotka at Belmont Park.
She was a graded-stakes winner for Rudy Rodriguez last year and came within a neck of Dreaming of Julia in the Frizette.
“It’ll be a horse race,” Stanco said. “Unlimited Budget is very good, we know that. My Happy Face, I watched the replay of that last race, and I said to Todd, ‘Look at the long legs on that one.’ So it’s a horse race. It’s as good a position as we could find ourselves in.”
Win or lose, Stanco will host a Kentucky Oaks celebration party with 120 family and friends afterward.
“Our feeling is this: if she wins [today], that’s absolutely phenomenal,” Stanco said. “She really doesn’t have to do any more. If she doesn’t win and everyone says, well, it was a fluke, it doesn’t matter to us, because I go home, and I look at that trophy, and it’s like . . . yeah.”