01/08/2014 12:00AM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Princess of Sylmar

photo by: Barbara D. Livingston

The adage “a good horse can come from anywhere” has been confirmed again by Princess of Sylmar, named for a road on the border of Pennsylvania (Syl) and Maryland (Mar) and the farm where she was foaled.

Princess of Sylmar’s dam, Storm Dixie, originally had a date with Grand Slam. But when Grand Slam was kicked by a hot-tempered mare, Ed Stanco, the managing partner of King of Prussia Stable, called an audible at the behest of bloodstock adviser Joe Brocklebank and arranged a mating with first-crop sire Majestic Warrior.

After a 19-length maiden win at Penn National, Princess of Sylmar joined Todd Pletcher’s winter string in New York, and concluded her 2-year-old season with a lengthy allowance triumph at Aqueduct.

“We certainly felt like the allowance win was a big indication that she was capable of stepping into stakes company,” Pletcher said. “It’s always hard to forecast that you’re going to have one as good as she’s turned out to be, but that was certainly the race that made us start thinking about a stakes program for her.”

Princess of Sylmar breezed through both the Busanda and the Busher at odds-on, and then made her graded stakes debut in the Gazelle against Close Hatches, who had wintered in Florida and won both of her starts impressively.

Forced to move prematurely, Princess of Sylmar challenged Close Hatches on the far turn, and though repelled, convinced her connections that she was Kentucky Oaks material.

Few bettors were convinced, and Princess of Sylmar was dismissed at better than 38-1. Allowed to settle into stride well off a fast pace, she rallied to striking position at the top of the stretch and closed relentlessly to overtake Eclipse Award winner Beholder by a half-length.

After a break, Princess of Sylmar was brought back for the Coaching Club American Oaks opening weekend at Saratoga, where Stanco, a native of nearby Schenectady, had first gone to the races with his uncle as a child.

Sent off as second choice, Princess of Sylmar was last early, but swept past the rest of the field around the far turn and drew away.

“I think everyone kind of lost sight of the fact that going into the Oaks it was billed as the best Oaks we’ve seen in 25 years,” said Pletcher afterward. “This filly wins it and gets virtually no respect . . . and now everyone understands that the Kentucky Oaks was a real race.”

Four weeks later, Princess of Sylmar handled America’s classic distance of 1 1/4 miles with aplomb, mastering four outclassed opponents in the Alabama Stakes.

Stanco, an actuary by trade, still has trouble calculating the odds of such a storybook season with the first horse he bred.

“I tell people it’s a blessing – she is a gift, and it’s our job to share her with the people,” he said. “How we got her, I have no idea.”

Six weeks after the Alabama, Princess of Sylmar took on Royal Delta in the Beldame Invitational at Belmont Park, and bested the two-time Eclipse Award champion by two decisive lengths, becoming the first 3-year-old to win the race since 2002.

Although Princess of Sylmar stumbled at the start and was never a factor in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff over a speed-favoring track, Pletcher still counts her among the best fillies he has trained.

“She’s certainly stepped into that top echelon,” he said. “To win the races she has – the Kentucky Oaks, the Alabama, the Beldame – it’s very difficult to win any single one of those races. To collectively be able to win all of them is very, very impressive.”