05/03/2013 8:23PM

Kentucky Oaks upset: Princess of Sylmar scores for Pletcher

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Todd Pletcher was expected to win the 139th running of the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, but not the way he did it. Not even close.

Princess of Sylmar, dismissed at 38-1, rallied strongest of all under Mike Smith and ran down a gritty Beholder to capture the Grade 1, $1 million Oaks by a half-length Friday before an ontrack crowd of 113,820.

Michael Amoruso
Princess of Sylmar wins the Kentucky Oaks.

Princess of Sylmar, a Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Majestic Warrior, was bred and is owned by the King of Prussia Stable of Ed Stanco. The chestnut filly returned $79.60 to win after finishing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:49.17 over a fast track. The win mutuel was the largest in the Oaks since Lemons Forever scored at 45-1 in 2006.

Princess of Sylmar was one of four trained by Pletcher in a field of 10 3-year-old fillies. Pletcher also had the 3-2 favorite, Dreaming of Julia, who endured a rough trip when fourth, just a head behind her stablemate, Unlimited Budget, who was two lengths behind Beholder as the 4-1 third choice. The other Pletcher trainee, Silsita, finished last at 45-1.

For Smith, the 47-year-old Hall of Fame jockey whose lone Kentucky Derby victory came in 2005 aboard a 50-1 shot, Giacomo, winning the Oaks was a sweet ride indeed.

“I’ve always wanted to win this race so bad, and I’d never even been close,” he said.

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Pletcher watched the race in the horsemen’s lounge adjacent to the paddock.

“Hey man, we won the Oaks,” he said while walking to the winner’s circle. “We’ll take it. We’re not going to complain, but I feel bad for Dreaming of Julia because she really had a tough trip.”

Under cloudy skies and amid seasonal temperatures, Midnight Lucky, the 3-1 second choice, sped to the lead from post 2, with Beholder (9-1) lapped onto her outside flank. Meanwhile, Dreaming of Julia was closer to the back after getting away from the gate in a tangle that also involved Princess of Sylmar, Pure Fun, and Rose to Gold.

“Dreaming of Julia probably got the worst of it,” said Pletcher.

Leaving the backstretch, as Beholder and jockey Garrett Gomez moved up with a stern challenge for the lead, Dreaming of Julia and jockey John Velazquez again found trouble, checking sharply on heels. In the meantime, Princess of Sylmar, after biding her time in ninth, was moving up trouble-free while racing several paths off the rail.

“She was really handling the track well,” said Smith. “I knew they were going pretty fast and maybe they’d be coming back to me in time.”

After straightening up, Beholder put away Midnight Lucky and passed the furlong pole with a clear lead and under a fierce drive. But then Princess of Sylmar, with Smith using a stinging right-handed whip, came with the winning run on the outside.

“Once I showed her out, she was gone,” said Smith.

Pletcher had seriously contemplated not even entering Princess of Sylmar in the Oaks until the filly went well in her second of two breezes over the Churchill surface last Saturday.

“I didn’t like her first work,” he said. “Her second work was really good. We decided to take a shot. Sometimes you’ve got take a shot.”

The Oaks marked the seventh career start for Princess of Sylmar. She lost her career debut in October when facing state-breds at Penn National, then reeled off four straight wins, the last three over the inner track at Aqueduct. In her final Oaks prep, she finished a well-beaten second to another Oaks filly, Close Hatches, in the April 6 Gazelle over the Aqueduct main track. Close Hatches was never a factor when finishing seventh Friday as the 7-1 fourth choice.

“If you looked at her form, she looked really good,” noted Smith. “That just tells you how extremely talented this field was.”

The Oaks was worth $589,000 to Stanco, who spoke at length at the post-race press conference, and improved the filly’s bankroll to $827,220. It was her first graded stakes win.

After Dreaming of Julia, the complete order was Midnight Lucky, Pure Fun, Close Hatches, Rose to Gold, Seaneen Girl, and Silsita.

This was the third Oaks victory for Pletcher, following Ashado (2004) and Rags to Riches (2007). The future Hall of Famer now has a chance to do what only two other trainers have done: sweep the Oaks and Derby in the same year. H.J. “Derby Dick” Thompson did it in 1933 and Ben Jones in 1952. Pletcher will run a record-tying five starters in the Derby on Saturday: Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice, Verrazano, and Charming Kitten.

Smith rides Palace Malice in the Derby and will bid to become the first jockey to sweep both races since Calvin Borel became the seventh to do so in 2009.

The $2 exacta (6-3) paid $727; the $1 trifecta (6-3-4) returned $1,535.40; the $1 superfecta (6-3-4-8) was worth $6,222.50; and the $1 Super High Five (6-3-4-8-2) paid $18,663.90.

– additional reporting by David Grening