Jeannine Edwards opened the Eclipse Awards livestream broadcast last Saturday by highlighting a few of the interesting storylines that emerged during the 2013 racing season.
Among them, she gave a shoutout to Schenectady in mentioning how remarkable it was for a guy, from our town, to breed one horse and then have her go on to win all these Grade I races for 3-year-old fillies.
That guy was at the black-tie ceremony, and “my phone jammed up,” Ed Stanco said.
“All the people I know in Schenectady were calling.”
His filly Princess of Sylmar was not named the champion in her division, bowing to Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beholder, but Stanco expects her to be just as good this year, if not better.
He and trainer Todd Pletcher took a substantial risk by sending her to the Breeders’ Cup in November to close an intense stretch of racing that extended all the way back to October 2012.
Forget about the risk of putting the Eclipse in jeopardy, which was never a primary factor in their decisions.
No, the real risk was subjecting Princess of Sylmar to one more grueling race that had the potential to sour her on racing.
Rachel Alexandra comes to mind.
Jockey Calvin Borel did what was necessary — some would say way more than necessary — hitting Rachel repeatedly down the stretch to barely hold off Macho Again in the 2009 Woodward at Saratoga Race Course. That win clinched Horse of the Year for Rachel Alexandra, and is one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever witnessed.
She had an admirable 4-year-old season in 2010, but was off her championship form and was retired after an upset by 21-1 Persistently in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga.
Like Rachel, the Princess is returning to the track as a 4-year-old, but, short of an actual race, her connections believe that the cautionary tale won’t be repeated with her.
Stanco visited his prized horse when he was in Florida for the Eclipse Awards, and besides her sculpted form and alert, energetic mien, Stanco points to the fact that jockey Javier Castellano completely dialed down on Princess of Sylmar in the BC Distaff once he realized it wasn’t her day.
The goal there was to ensure that Princess of Sylmar’s affinity for her job wouldn’t be beaten out of her. No season debut race has been identified yet, but when she runs again, Stanco believes the new year will find her refreshed and a major championship contender again.
“I don’t see her falling off,” Stanco said. “Here’s the difference: when he [Borel] hit her [Rachel] 20 times, I think that ruined her. You can run into a burnout problem.
“But Javier didn’t overstress her. So in the Breeders’ Cup, when he knew on the backstretch that he had nothing, he didn’t make her suffer. She was sore after the race, but she’s had months of rest, and all systems are go.”
Stanco bases that on his own observations, but mostly on feedback from Pletcher.
Princess of Sylmar took her vacation at WinStar Farm in Kentucky, got back to galloping there and was at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, just about ready for a breeze, last weekend.
Besides having filled out her frame, Princess of Sylmar has begun to exhibit the diva behavior of stars like Rachel and Zenyatta, Stanco said.
“She does look bigger and stronger. There’s no fat on her,” Stanco said. “Her coat is perfect, and you can tell she’s incredibly happy.
“She’s responsive and she is full of herself. She knew who we were. When I go up to her, she just plops her head on my head. She gets a lot of visitors, and the other thing I noticed is when the cellphones [cameras] come out now, she turns her head and poses.”
As always, Stanco will defer to Pletcher’s judgment when it comes to picking races, but two down the road that are obvious targets are the Delaware Handicap and the Personal Ensign.
The Princess camp got good news when Delaware Park announced that the Handicap was moved a week earlier on the calendar, to July 12, which gives them an extra week before the Personal Ensign.
She didn’t win the Eclipse at Gulfstream Park, but Stanco, a 1967 Linton High School graduate, said just being one of three finalists was a thrill beyond description.
He and his wife, Ina, were happy to be there to support Castellano and Pletcher, too. The jockey category was one of the more difficult to vote on, and there’s a good chance Castellano wouldn’t have won his championship without Princess of Sylmar.
The Stancos live in New Jersey, but just bought a townhouse at Interlaken in Saratoga Springs, conveniently located adjacent to their favorite victory celebration spot, Longfellows.
In the afterglow of the Eclipse weekend, during which Stanco was graciously congratulated by champion Beholder’s connections — owner B. Wayne Hughes and trainer Richard Mandella — Stanco is eager for 2014, but has mixed feelings now that the 2013 whirlwind is over.
“It’s a sad feeling, in a way, like when you have kids in high school and then they graduate and go through all that,” he said. “Then they leave home, and there’s a definite change. Last year was a dream, and this year is when you start to realize that it’s not going to last forever.
“The thrill will end, and . . . wow.”