07/11/2014 11:44AM

Princess of Sylmar has Breeders' Cup mulligan on radar

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Tom Keyser
Princess of Sylmar (left) was beaten a head by Close Hatches in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park last month.

With Princess of Sylmar making only her third start of the year, and second in a graded stakes, on Saturday in the Delaware Handicap, it is a safe assumption that we will be seeing more of her the second half of the year, at least in prime-time races.

The most refreshing news regarding Princess of Sylmar is that both owner Ed Stanco and trainer Todd Pletcher are open to the possibility of sending her back to California for another try at the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Last year’s Distaff did not go well for Princess of Sylmar and remains the worst race on her sterling record.

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Other topics that came up this week were:

* Foals produced by the dam of Princess of Sylmar, Storm Dixie.

* And, the pressures of running your horse as a heavy favorite in a Grade 1 while entertaining several hundred of your friends and family at the track.

The Breeders’ Cup

Princess of Sylmar had a long campaign last season as a 3-year-old. She began her career in a maiden race at Penn National in October 2012, stayed in New York for the winter, running three times over the inner track at Aqueduct, and remained in training through last fall’s Breeders’ Cup.

Princess of Sylmar got better as the season went on, winning four straight Grade 1’s: The Kentucky Oaks at 38-1, the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Alabama, and the Beldame over multiple Eclipse champion Royal Delta.

Stanco and Pletcher were then faced with a difficult decision: Whether to supplement Princess of Sylmar to the Breeders’ Cup for $100,000 and head to Santa Anita for one more race, or stand pat? Stanco decided to go for it, ponied up the money, and they shipped west.

The race did not go well. Princess of Sylmar stumbled at the start, never got involved over a track that was exceptionally speed-favoring, and finished last in the six-horse field.

“She was just exhausted at the end of the year last year, and it was very hot out there,” said Stanco, 64. “It certainly was in the saddling barn. All of the horses were hot. They were a mess. I also thought the track was exceedingly hard, and she did stumble.

“Having said that, if she’s healthy, and Todd thinks so, we would consider taking her back to California.”

Princess of Sylmar’s 4-year-old season has been designed with having her fresh for the major summer-fall races. She kicked things off with an easy win in a one-mile overnight stakes at Aqueduct in early April, and then finished a hard-charging second to Close Hatches in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes Day supercard, missing by a head.

“She's shown that the Breeders' Cup is behind her with the two starts this year,” Pletcher told Daily Racing Form correspondent Mike Welsch this week at Saratoga. “As much as you can plan in this game, ideally we'll run at Delaware, and then come back for the Personal Ensign and maybe the Beldame again before the Breeders’ Cup.”

The royal family

Princess of Sylmar is the first horse ever bred by Stanco, CEO of the TOA Reinsurance Company of America. His King of Prussia Stable raced Princess of Sylmar’s dam, Storm Dixie, a New York-bred winner of 1 of 10 races. After she was retired in the fall of 2008, the decision was made to breed her. After much deliberation, and with professional advice, it was determined Storm Dixie would be sent to Grand Slam. She was shipped to Ashford Stud in Kentucky, came into heat, and was scheduled to be bred.

Unfortunately, Grand Slam was kicked by a mare the day before his appointment with Storm Dixie, and Stanco had to make a quick decision on a substitute stallion. Majestic Warrior, a talented racehorse by A.P. Indy, but unproven at stud, was suggested and the rest is history. Princess of Sylmar has gone on to win 9 of 13 starts and $1.8 million. So much for science.

Princess of Sylmar is Storm Dixie’s only offspring to race, but that will likely end this year or next.

Storm Dixie’s second foal, who was born in 2011, fractured a femur bone in a paddock accident, according to Stanco.

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Her third foal, a daughter of E Dubai, is now a 2-year-old named Starburst Lilly.

“She will go to Todd this month,” Stanco said.

Stanco also has a yearling filly out of Storm Dixie by Petionville.

“We wanted to breed Storm Dixie back to Majestic Warrior in 2013, but it was late in the season and we gave her a year off,” Stanco said. “She is now in foal to Tapit.”

Pressure, what pressure?

Many owners and trainers say there is more pressure running a short-priced favorite than a longshot. The expectations are higher, and you’re supposed to win. Not an easy position to be in.

But how about running an odds-on favorite in a Grade 1 race while hosting an ontrack party for several hundred of your closest family members, friends, and business associates? That is what Stanco will be doing Saturday on Delaware Handicap Day.

“A race is a race; you never know," said Stanco, who lives in Malvern, Pa. "Nobody thought Princess of Sylmar would win the Oaks, but she did at 38-1. The adrenaline gets pumping, but I don’t feel pressure having a large group out to see her run.

“In fact, I am so happy to be able to take her to Delaware Park. I began taking my kids there on Sundays in 1991. Delaware was the place we’d go on a Sunday.”

Stanco does admit to feeling the heat prior to one of Princess of Sylmar’s races last year. Fortunately, she came through.

“The only time I really felt it was at the Alabama,” he said. “She was like 1-2 in the betting, there were 35,000 people there, and they were all there to see her run.”

Gee, Ed, the crowd won’t be that big Saturday but that sounds an awful lot like the Delaware Handicap scenario. . . .