While people buzzed around the paddock bar on Monday, Ed Stanco and his wife and two graddaughters inconspicuously stopped to snap a picture of a lawn jockey statue painted Godolphin royal blue.
It was a “Before” picture; they’ll take the “After” picture next year.
Maybe they’ll take two.
Not only is Princess of Sylmar a big favorite in the Grade I Alabama at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, but it’s possible that she would wrap up a 3-year-old filly championship with a win in the Alabama, even though it’s only August.
All year, the 1967 Linton High School graduate has expressed his deep desire to win a big race at his hometown track in terms anyone who has walked through the clubhouse entrance can appreciate: getting a jockey statue painted in his silks colors.
Stanco accomplished that, when Princess of Sylmar won the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks, which means the Godolphin statue for Questing will be the purple and light blue of Stanco’s King of Prussia Stable next year.
Now, the homebred daughter of Majestic Warrior is in position to solidify her hold on the division, perhaps even clinch it, which means there’s even more pressure this time on the only horse Stanco has racing.
“I’m definitely feeling it,” Stanco said on Wednesday morning, after watching his filly make a routine gallop on the main track.
“This is everything. Each one builds a little bit more, you know? Just one more time. So, yeah, there’s a lot riding on that.”
“I would certainly think that any filly who won the Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club and Alabama — if she’s able to do that — it would be pretty hard to top that,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We’ll hope for a win first and then worry about that [Eclipse Award].”
Princess of Sylmar will be ridden in the Alabama by Javier Castellano and is 2-5 on the morning line against five rivals, most prominently Black-Eyed Susan winner Fiftyshadesofhay, who is 2-1 off a win in the Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows.
This will be the first time she and Princess of Sylmar have raced against each other.
Stanco, CEO of Toa Reinsurance in Morristown, N.J., moved out of the Capital Region in 1979, but grew up at Saratoga and made regular trips back with his wife, Ina, after leaving Schenectady.
Among his memorable moments at Saratoga were Buckpasser’s win from last place in the 1966 Travers when Stanco was in high school, and Onion upsetting Secretariat in the 1973 Whitney.
“My wife wanted Onion. I’m standing in line, I’m seeing Secretariat winning by 30 lengths and I say, ‘I can’t bet this, this is foolish,’ ” Stanco said. “So I got out of line. I have a picture at home of Onion beating Secretariat, and my wife, after 40 years, has never let me forget it.
“We were at an Old Friends auction [Tuesday], a picture of Secretariat came up and I ended up having to buy it as a memorabilia of that event. For a 20-dollar picture, I think I spent 175 bucks.”
Stanco can’t pull any specific Alabama winners as standout memory-makers, but they’d all be quickly eliminated from the top spot if Princess of Sylmar wins, anyway.
He said he would prefer not to run her in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita for a variety of reasons, one of the most significant of which is that he wants to race her as a 4-year-old next year. He would be satisfied with finishing the season in the Alabama and the Cotillion at Parx on Sept. 21.
Since last October, she has run a race every month except for March and June.
The Pennsylvania-bred is not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita, which means they’d have to pay a $100,000 late nomination fee and a $40,000 entry fee.
“We’ve kind of talked about some different scenarios, but ultimately, we’ll see how she runs and see how she comes out of it and make a decision after that,” Pletcher said. “But he’s committed to running her as a 4-year-old, so at some point, we need to give her a break. And she’s not Breeders’ Cup nominated, and the Breeders’ Cup is in California, so there’s some things to think about. We’ll see what happens.”
One thing is for certain: If Princess of Sylmar wins on Saturday, the now-familiar chants of “Ed-die, Ed-die!” will again issue from his friends and family.
It started at the Kentucky Oaks, when she won at odds of 38-1, and continued after she won the CCA Oaks four weeks ago.
“Ed and his family and friends are all having about as much fun as you can have with a horse,” Pletcher said. “I think he’s enjoyed it and embraced it and appreciates how hard it is to do. He’s having the time of his life.”
“Alabama week, to think they call it Alabama week, and our filly is the overwhelming favorite . . . it’s a lot of fun, that’s all I can say. It’s incredible to me,” Stanco said. “But what’s really fun about this and bringing all the people up here, is that when we had the Coaching Club Oaks, my brother-in-law came up from New Jersey and said to me when we were in the paddock before the race, he said, ‘You know, this is a lot of fun. This is the first time I’ve been here since you took me up here for when Secretariat beat Onion.’
“Having the experience and sharing it, that’s what it’s all about.”