05/03/2013 8:07PM

Kentucky Oaks: Pennsylvania's Stanco succeeds with homebred

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Barbara D. Livingston
Owner-breeder Ed Stanco (on ground, right) celebrates Princess of Sylmar's Kentucky Oaks win with trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Mike Smith.

Sometimes in horse racing, it's better to be lucky than good.

In the spring of 2009, owner-breeder Ed Stanco's mare Storm Dixie, a winning daughter of Catienus who had been retired the fall before, was on her way to be bred for the first time. After extensive analysis and consulting bloodstock experts, Stanco had selected Grand Slam at Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky., for Storm Dixie’s first mating. However, with one phone call his plans changed abruptly.

"The day before [she was scheduled to be bred], Grand Slam had been injured," Stanco said. "So I got a call [from Coolmore staff] at 8 o' clock in the morning saying, 'We have a problem, what are we going to do?' And now I don't know what to do. [Coolmore said] said, 'Well, we’ve got this young freshman sire, Majestic Warrior.' And I said, 'Okay, let's look at the numbers.' I'm an actuary, so I said, 'Well, I want to do all the numerical analysis but I don't have any numbers.' They said, 'Don't worry about it, he's good.' So I said, 'You know what? Let's do it.'"

Four years after that fateful phone call, Stanco watched the resulting filly Princess of Sylmar, who races in the colors of his King of Prussia Stable, storm down the stretch at Churchill Downs, overhauling reigning divisional champion Beholder at odds of 38.80-to-1 to win an edition of the Kentucky Oaks that many pundits had lauded as the deepest in years.

"It's very emotional. What can I say?" Stanco remarked. "The odds never bothered us. It's been a long haul."

Stanco, a native of Schenectady, N.Y., became a fan of racing at a young age by taking trips to nearby Saratoga Race Course with his uncle. The actuary, formerly CEO of Toa Reinsurance in New Jersey and now CEO of Pennsylvania-based White Mountain Insurance Co., later became interested in Thoroughbred ownership after meeting trainer Todd Pletcher's father, J.J. Pletcher, in 1995. Several years later, Stanco was working with a partner who had horses with the younger Pletcher, and decided to invest in a racing partnership himself.

The second horse Stanco became involved with, while racing with the So Madcapt Stable partnership, was Grade 2 winner and New York-bred champion Capeside Lady, who gave the owner a taste of top-level competition when she finished sixth in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Distaff.

"It was an amazing experience," Stanco said.

The partnership sold Capeside Lady for $700,000 at that fall's Keeneland November breeding stock sale, and Stanco assumed his days of owning top-level Thoroughbreds were over.

"[After] we went to the sale with her, I said, 'I will never own another racehorse. This can't happen again,'" Stanco said. "But I turn around, and it's Kentucky Derby time, and I get a call from Joe Brocklebank, the bloodstock agent, saying, 'You know, Ed, I've got a nice horse for you to look at.' And it was Storm Dixie. I said, 'I will never do this again,' and I went and I looked [at her], and I go, 'Okay, we're buying the horse.'"

Princess of Sylmar is trained by Todd Pletcher, who campaigned Capeside Lady through her Breeders’ Cup start. Stanco heaped praise on Pletcher following the Oaks victory.

"I've been with Todd for ten years, and it's been a very well-planned approach to how to go to the races," Stanco said. "We took our time with some smaller, not-so-successful ones. And to me, there's no better trainer in the world, that he could do this with this kind of filly."

Pletcher said he has a good working relationship with the owner.

"I think Ed has a very good feel for racing," Pletcher said. "He has a very good understanding. He's a very good handicapper."