Princess of Sylmar may not have won an Eclipse Award for 2013 despite four consecutive grade I victories, but owner Ed Stanco of King of Prussia Stable was a happy man the evening of May 30 at the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association's Iroquois Awards Dinner.
Stanco and partners were on hand to pick up trophies the now 4-year-old filly won as Pennsylvania Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old filly of 2013. The honors have special meaning because Stanco bred Princess of Sylmar, who is by Majestic Warrior out of the Catienus mare Storm Dixie and was foaled at Ron and Betsy Houghton's Sylmar Farm in Lancaster County, Pa.
"It's really, really nice," said Stanco, who is looking forward to watching Princess Sylmar take on two-time champion Beholder and Close Hatches in the $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park June 7. "To us, this award is as big as anything. It's very special to have a state-bred champion. The Pennsylvania-bred program is big, and she is one of the better horses to come out of Pennsylvania.
"We're all very proud to represent Pennsylvania."
The dinner was held at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, where Princess of Sylmar broke her maiden by 19 lengths in November 2012 as a 2-year-old in her second start for trainer Todd Pletcher. Last year the filly won the Longines Kentucky Oaks, TVG Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama Stakes, and Beldame Invitational Stakes (all gr. I).
She finished an uncharacteristic sixth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) behind the victorious Beholder to end her season, and returned in early April at Aqueduct Racetrack to take the one-mile Cat Cay Stakes in comfortable fashion.
"We were racing for history," Stanco said of the decision to ship Princess of Sylmar to California for the Breeders' Cup. "Todd thought she was in great shape. It didn't work out. So with this year's campaign, we said, 'Let's be very careful.' We don't have to force her into a race. We really wanted to get her ready for the summer months."
Stanco, who believes the Ogden Phipps will get a lot of attention even though it's on the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) program, said the plan is to take it one race at a time. Even so, there has been discussion about starts in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. I) at Delaware Park July 12 and the $500,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 22.
Delaware Park is not far from King of Prussia, Pa. Stanco has spent a lot of time there over the years, and recalls being there in the early 1990s when the track was circulating petitions for authorization of slot machines, which came a few years later.
"We loved going to Delaware Park," Stanco said. "That was our track. I can't imagine if she goes to Delaware, how many people would be there to see her. It would be so much fun. To bring her to Delaware Park would be great."
Princess of Sylmar has earned $1,667,220 in 12 starts; she has won nine races, seven of them stakes, and has one second-place finish, in the grade II Gazelle Stakes. Though Stanco bred the filly, he gives credit to the Houghtons for their role.
"We're most happy for Betsy and Ronnie Houghton," Stanco said. "They dedicated their lives to the business first in Maryland and then Pennsylvania. For us to have been around her often at the farm and then see her do so well means so much to us."
The Pennsylvania-bred divisional winners were announced earlier this year and can be viewed here.