02/08/2013 12:54PM

Always a Princess proves a survivor - and now a mother

Shigeki Kikkawa
Always a Princess wins the 2011 La Canada at Santa Anita - one start before she broke down in the Santa Margarita.

The last time racing fans saw Always a Princess was March 12, 2011, when she stepped onto a horse ambulance at Santa Anita Park. Many Southern California fans and horsemen still stop her owner, Arnold Zetcher, and ask how his popular homebred is doing, and now he has some good news to share. Always a Princess delivered her first foal, a Medaglia d’Oro colt, on Jan. 26 at Winter Quarter Farm in Lexington, Ky. They’re both doing great, say Zetcher and Winter Quarter owner Don Robinson.

“It’s amazing,” Zetcher said. “We couldn’t be happier. It’s like a fairytale story when you look at what happened to her and where she is today.”

The Santa Margarita chart comment – “pulled up, fell, vanned” – doesn’t do justice to what Zetcher and his wife, Ellen, felt that March day after their then-4-year-old Leroidesanimaux filly left the track. Like everyone else, the Zetchers initially feared Always a Princess had suffered a fatal injury. Trained by Bob Baffert, she had come into the Santa Margarita off two consecutive graded wins over 2010 champion 3-year-old filly Blind Luck, and they had high hopes that Always a Princess could earn her first Grade 1 tally in the Santa Margarita.

“Coming down the stretch, she was neck and neck for the lead, and she went down,” Zetcher said. “We didn’t know what had happened. Bob and I went out onto the track, and there was talk at that moment of putting her down. But somehow she came back and stood up, and we think she saved herself because when she went down she just laid down. She wasn’t trying to fight or thrash or anything like that.”

Always a Princess had broken the sesamoids in her left front leg. Dr. Wayne McIlwraith performed surgery the following day.

“We were told at the time that she only had about a 10 percent chance of making it,” Zetcher recalled.

Fortunately, Always a Princess proved a good patient. She avoided the potentially fatal complication of laminitis, partly by lying down regularly to take weight off her legs.

According to Zetcher, Always a Princess spent some time recuperating at Winner’s Circle Farm and Bliss Canyon Ranch in California. In the summer of 2011, the Zetchers flew Always a Princess back to her birthplace at Winter Quarter.

“We weren’t going to hurry her to do anything,” Robinson said. “One of those fusions, if you’ve ever seen radiographs, you’re kind of in awe and horror at the same time. There’s more superstructure and plates and hardware. It looks like a television tower. It’s amazing.

“She really never looked back. She started in a pen, then we gently introduced her to a paddock, then brought in a friend. By about fall she was in with a little group of mares. She’s very smart and handles herself well. We periodically X-ray to make sure things are stable, and these things get more stable as they calcify. From time to time, on hard ground, she’ll get sore, and we back up on her turnout or give her a little bute. You manage mares like that carefully. But she’s done magnificently.”

Medaglia d’Oro was an easy choice as Always a Princess’s first mate. He sired her Grade 1-winning half-sister Gabby’s Golden Gal for the Zetchers. But given Always a Princess’s recent history, the birth was anticipated – and worried about – more than most.

“The foaling was nerve-wracking but absolutely flawless,” Robinson said. “Everything happened perfectly.”

On the track, Always a Princess won half of her 10 starts and earned $516,048, recording three Grade 2 wins.

“Between the two sisters, they were really nice fillies for us, and you do grow a little attached, especially when they’re homebreds,” Zetcher said. “We were beside ourselves when Always a Princess got hurt, and we were asking ourselves so many questions. But, in the long run, it’s turned out okay. Don takes great care of her. At the moment, we’re just enjoying that we’ve got the foal and that his mother is fine.”