Princess of Sylmar, facing older foes for the first time, sprung a mild upset Sept. 28 when the 3-year-old filly collared two-time champion Royal Delta and went on to win the $400,000 Beldame Invitational Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park by two lengths (VIDEO).
A Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Majestic Warrior racing for breeder Ed Stanco's King of Prussia Stable, Princess of Sylmar was settled into fourth off the early pace of longshot Roman Invader, who was stalked by Royal Delta and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. Parlo Stakes winner Roman Invader and jockey Junior Alvarado led through the first half in :46.71 before being challenged by Royal Delta rounding the turn for home.
Princess of Sylmar and Javier Castellano also advanced on the turn and were second to Royal Delta at the head of the stretch. After six furlongs were completed in 1:10.53, it looked as if those two were going to engage in a stretch duel, but Princess of Sylmar wore down the older champion and went on to win under a hand ride. She stopped the timer 1:47.93 for the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track.
Princess of Sylmar, who has won eight of 10 starts with one second and now earned $1,607,220, paid $6.20. $2.20, $2.20 as the 2-1 second choice. Royal Delta, off at 1-5 odds, paid $2.10 and $2.10, with Centring third at $2.20. Completing the field were And Why Not and Roman Invader. Lady Cohiba was scratched.
The first of five grade I races on the Saturday Belmont card, the Beldame was the fourth grade I win in a row for Princess of Sylmar, who began the run with a 38-1 upset in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). That was followed by victories in the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) and the Aug. 17 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course.
Pletcher said his charge and Castellano ran the type of race he envisioned for a winning effort.
"I just wanted to emphasize, 'Let her run her race. Don't chase. Wherever you are, let it be on her terms, and just try to sit back and play to her strengths,' " Pletcher said. "I felt like if there was anyone on paper who could do that, it was her. It was nice (Royal Delta) didn't get completely loose. We kind of got within striking distance at the quarter pole, and I thought we had a big shot.
"Like I said before the race, we have a lot of respect for how good Royal Delta is, and it says a lot about (owner) Ed Stanco that we could have gone to what appeared to be an easier spot on paper ($1 million Cotillion Stakes, gr. I, Parx Racing) and we came here and took on the defending champ and were a deserving winner. It wasn't about the money, you know?"
Said Castellano: "If you asked me what the pace was, I couldn't have told you. I thought :48 or :49. My filly did it so easy. I was a little concerned the first half because my goal was just to get her in a good spot, and I had to use her a little bit early in the race to get her into a good spot. Turning for home, I turned her loose just a little bit and she gave me the gear and she took off.
"Royal Delta was my target all the way in the race. When I saw she didn't take off at the quarter pole, which usually she does, I thought, 'Whoa, I think I have a chance to win the race.' When I let her go she just took off and opened up. I'm very satisfied. She's an amazing filly."
"This a new stratosphere for us," Stanco said. "When (exercise rider) Jake Nelson was on her in Saratoga two days after we won the Alabama, I walked out with her and she was full of herself. He said she hasn't missed a beat. As you might have noticed, she has gone into a growth spurt and has put on weight. Todd told me Tuesday she was just perfect in her training. He felt very confident."
The Beldame is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I), which Royal Delta has won the past two years when it was named the Ladies' Classic. Princess of Sylmar is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup and would have to be supplemented to run in the Nov. 1 Distaff at Santa Anita Park.
"I don't think that's a question we can answer right now," Pletcher said in reference to the Distaff. "We need two or three more weeks to sort that out."
Royal Delta, winner of the Beldame last year in her final Breeders' Cup prep, has already won two Breeders' Cup Distaff "Win and You're In" races in the Delaware Handicap (gr. I) in July and the Aug. 25 Personal Ensign (gr. I) for owner Besilu Stables and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Mott said he thought his mare ran a "good race, maybe not her best race."
"(Princess of Sylmar) came to us and beat us today," Mott said. "I think Royal Delta is doing well. We looked for a big race from her. When she put (Roman Invader) away on the turn, I thought she'd go ahead and open up a little more than she did. No big excuse. It was an incredible race. You have to give the winner her due. She's champion 3-year-old (filly), that's for sure."
Mott said he did not think the Beldame would affect Royal Delta's chances for a third straight Distaff.
"I've won more Breeders' Cups finishing second in the Beldame than winning it," he said.
"She didn't necessarily stumble in front, but just kind of lost her footing for a jump or two," jockey Smith said of Royal Delta's start. "She got up and still was in a comfortable place where I wanted to be. I felt somebody to my outside at the quarter pole, and I knew it was her (Princess of Sylmar). It was just a matter of whether I could out-stride her to the wire, and I just couldn't today.
"(Princess of Sylmar) got up to me at the quarter pole and just out-footed me to the wire today. My hat's off to the winner."