07/10/2014 12:40PM

Hometown favorite Princess of Sylmar stars in Delaware Handicap

Nikki Sherman
Princess of Sylmar (left), who finished a close second in the Ogden Phipps Handicap, goes as the hometown favorite Saturday in the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.

Delaware Handicap Day will be especially festive this year.

Always the high point of the Delaware Park meet, the race has held its purse at $750,000 the last five seasons and has continued to draw cream-of-the-crop fillies and mares – Royal Delta won the last two runnings, and Blind Luck nosed out the eventual Horse of the Year, Havre de Grace, in 2011. A large crowd can be expected Saturday, and the party-atmosphere “grove” will be hopping.

The stage this year belongs to the hometown girl Princess of Sylmar, who was foaled and raised not far away at Sylmar Farm in Pennsylvania, and her owner, Ed Stanco, who resides a short drive from Delaware Park in Malvern, Pa. Stanco will be throwing a huge ontrack bash to celebrate the occasion.

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“I can factually tell you we had 100 people out on Belmont Day for the Ogden Phipps,” Stanco said. “For the CCA Oaks last year, we had 120. I want to share all this with my family, friends, and partners. We will have a lot of people from our neighborhood at Delaware on Saturday. Sylmar Farm will have a lot of people out for the day.”

Princess of Sylmar will be a short price to defeat five rivals in the 1 1/4-mile Del Cap under 123 pounds. A winner of 9 of 13 starts and $1.8 million, she had an amazing run last year at 3, taking the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama Stakes, and Beldame Invitational consecutively.

Her head loss to the division leader, Close Hatches, in the June 7 Ogden Phipps Stakes was strong and came at a 1 1/16-mile distance that might be shorter than optimum for her. She embarks on a summer-fall campaign Saturday that will give her every chance to compete for the divisional championship.

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Princess of Sylmar’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, has won the Delaware Handicap four times – with Life At Ten (2010), Unbridled Belle (2007), Fleet Indian (2006), and Irving’s Baby (2001) – tying him for the most wins in the race with Henry S. Clark, who won his Del Caps between 1958 and 1970.

“She ran super in her last race,” Pletcher said. “It was a tough beat. She ran well – just missed. It was a very tough head bob. As much as you can plan in this game, ideally, we’ll run here and then come back for the Personal Ensign and maybe the Beldame again before the Breeders’ Cup.”

Princess of Sylmar’s regular rider, Javier Castellano, will be aboard Saturday.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 6 Princess of Sylmar. Trainer Todd Pletcher is 21 for 64 with a $3.68 ROI over the past year in dirt routes with horses making their second start after a layoff. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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Princess of Sylmar’s greatest challenge might come from Molly Morgan (119 pounds), who at age 5 is in the best form of her career for trainer Dale Romans. If a mare can have a breakout race in her 21st start, Molly Morgan did just that June 14 in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Jockey Corey Lanerie found running room along the inside coming to the quarter pole of the 1 1/8-mile race, and Molly Morgan accelerated to the lead, quickly leaving the field in her wake and winning by four lengths. In her prior start, she finished second to On Fire Baby in the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill on Kentucky Oaks Day.

“Her last two races have by far been her best,” Romans said. “She’s always shown a little promise, and she is really getting it all together right now. I’ve run her over her head in some races because I always felt there was more there, and if she did live up to what I thought she could do, I wanted it to be in a race where it meant something. I think there is still room for improvement with her.”

Gamay Noir, at 116 pounds, has a useful race over the track, having won the Obeah Stakes. Trainer Marty Wolfson claimed her for $100,000 in January at Gulfstream Park, and she has since won a pair of Grade 3s, the Rampart at Gulfstream and the Obeah. Like Princess of Sylmar, 1 1/4 miles should hit her right between the eyes.

“The distance is good for her,” Wolfson said. “I claimed her to see if dirt would be good for her. Her turf form had been a little spotty.”

The other Del Cap entrants are Flashy American (118), who won the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne in April and was second to Molly Morgan in the Fleur de Lis; Belle Gallantey (114), who finished fifth, beaten 1 3/4 lengths in the Phipps; and Bryan’s Jewel (112), the winner of last year’s Obeah.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch