10/20/2013 12:59PM

Princess of Sylmar and the Breeders' Cup Distaff


Like most people, I prefer race horses to race, not to sit out races to protect their value or status, or to protect the stats of the people who handle them. And like most people, I want championships to be earned on the track, which in today's game, pretty much means the Breeders' Cup, given the symbiotic relationship between the two.

That said, I understand how it might seem contradictory that I have reservations about Princess of Sylmar being supplemented to the Breeders' Cup Distaff, which was made official Saturday.

Running Princess of Sylmar in the Distaff is a sporting gesture. But in a larger sense, this is also the right thing to do. Most of the time, anyway. Top horses like Princess of Sylmar are supposed to run in top races like the Distaff if they are able, and she is able. But there is something different about this particular situation. Even though her connections don't seem to have a problem with it, the risk/reward ratio for Princess of Sylmar in this venture feels all wrong.

Even before her start in last month's Grade 1 Beldame, Princess of Sylmar was the probable 3-year-old filly champion on the strength of consecutive Grade 1 victories in the Kentucky Oaks, the Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Alabama. Beholder, the active 3-year-old filly in closest hailing distance of Princess of Sylmar in an Eclipse Award sense (I realize Close Hatches fans will disagree), had only two lesser Grade 1 wins, and lost to Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks, albeit narrowly, and in very game fashion.

The Beldame, however, was a game changer, or game clincher, or so it seemed at the time. In the Beldame, Princess of Sylmar ran right past Royal Delta, winner of the last two Distaffs, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, and a mortal lock to take another older female championship this year. Much to her credit, Beholder dispatched older opponents in the Grade 1 Zenyatta later that very day, although no older opponent anywhere close to a Royal Delta.

But by going to the Breeders' Cup, the connections of Princess of Sylmar are shouldering a significant risk. They can't win the 3-year-old filly title in the Distaff, because if Princess of Sylmar is to be the divisional champion, then she won the title before the Breeders Cup, without having to run in it. Princess of Sylmar can only lose her divisional championship by running in the Distaff, and here's how:

If Beholder wins the Distaff, and that could happen because she is, after all, a champion, and is 5 for 6 in her career on Santa Anitas main track, then Beholder will have the same number of Grade 1 wins this year as Princess of Sylmar, an even head-to-head record, and most importantly, a victory over her chief rival on the biggest stage. Beholder, like a phoenix rising, would suddenly have a very viable Eclipse Award candidacy.

Close Hatches would also suddenly have a strong title case should she win the Distaff. The Distaff would be only her third Grade 1 win of the year. But it would give Close Hatches a 2-1 head-to-head edge over Princess of Sylmar this year, as well as that invaluable win over her in the "big one."

Hey, by running in this Distaff, Princess of Sylmar also risks tarnishing her Beldame. I think Princess of Sylmar beat Royal Delta on the square that day. I think its possible, if not likely, that at this stage of their careers, Princess of Sylmar might just be better than Royal Delta. But I also get it when other people opine that Royal Delta was merely prepping in the Beldame, that she will be a much tougher customer in the Breeders' Cup while returning to a Santa Anita main track over which she won last year, and on which, notably, Princess of Sylmar has never raced.

Princess of Sylmar's Breeders' Cup venture would make much more sense if there was more at stake for her, such as, Horse of the Year honors. But even if she should win the Distaff, and things break right for her with a combination of key losses in other Breeders' Cup races, I could never support a Princess of Sylmar Horse of the Year candidacy for the simple fact that she never faced males. My Horses of the Year do not compete exclusively in restricted races, and I would hope that many other Eclipse Award voters have similar standards.

I know people will say that if Beholder or Close Hatches beats Princess of Sylmar in the Breeders' Cup, and it costs Princess of Sylmar the divisional championship, then that is as it should be. It was settled on the track. And I agree. Completely. But that is also why this might be the rare instance where, though it wouldn't be sporting, it would be understandable to pass. But she's not passing, so under the circumstances, it seems only fair to acknowledge that perhaps no horse in this Breeders' Cup has more to lose and less to gain than Princess of Sylmar.