Princess of Sylmar used the $100,000 Cat Cay Stakes (VIDEO) as a good starting point for the 2014 season at Aqueduct Racetrack April 6, gliding through an opening off the turn and cruising to victory.
The 3-5 favorite in the field of five older fillies and mares, Princess of Sylmar won under a hand ride from Javier Castellano for Ed Stanco's King of Prussia Stable and trainer Todd Pletcher. She completed the one-turn mile test in 1:34.79 on a fast main track while defeating second choice Wedding Toast by 3 1/2 lengths.
"It was ideal, what we were hoping for," Pletcher said. "Good to see her back."
A four-time grade I winner last year as a 3-year-old, she lost her chance at an Eclipse Award when she finished last of six after stumbling at the start of the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park.
Sunday's appearance was the first for the daughter of Majestic Warrior since that debacle. Given some time off, she returned to training in February at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida and was recently transferred to Belmont Park, where she had a couple of timed breezes over the training track.
"With the way she had been training she indicated she's as good as ever," Pletcher said. "We were expecting a good performance. I thought for this type of race it came up pretty tough. [Wedding Toast] is a very good filly. We feel like we had her ready to run well, but we tried not to overdo it. It's a long season, and there are bigger goals ahead."
According to Pletcher, Princess of Sylmar is using the overnight stakes as a prep for her first major objective of the season, the $1 million Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) on Belmont Stakes day June 7. A rematch with BC Distaff winner and two-time champion Beholder is possible in the Phipps.
"We'll see after that, but I think races like the Delaware Handicap (gr. I) are a possibility, the Personal Ensign (gr. I), the Beldame (gr. I). Those are the type of races we're looking at right now," Pletcher said. "I think she runs well fresh. One thing with her we're always trying to be aware of is keeping her weight up. It's a long season, and, considering she runs as well as she does fresh, (there is) no need for a prep in between."
Princess of Sylmar was reserved early while slightly off the rail in the Cat Cay as Highestmaintenance, the longest shot in the compact field at 25-1, was sent out to lead Montana Native and Wedding Toast. Castellano was content to let the favorite track in fourth through solid quarter mile fractions of :22.97, :45.61, and 1:09.64.
As the first three lined up to vie for the lead rounding the bend, Princess of Sylmar moved into gear, finding room between Montana Native and Wedding Toast while three wide coming into the stretch. Princess of Sylmar was quickly in command by 3 1/2 lengths at the furlong marker and continued to stride for the wire while handled steadily by Castellano.
"I liked the way she did it today," Castellano said. "Very professional, as always. The pace set up for her well. One thing she did well today was split horses through that narrow hole and went right by those horses very nicely. That was phenomenal. She was much the best."
Princess of Sylmar posted her ninth win from 12 lifetime starts, and her fourth in five tries at Aqueduct, where launched her successful campaign last year. She won both the Busanda and Busher stakes at the New York track in 2013 before finishing second to Close Hatches in the Gazelle Stakes (gr. II) exactly one year ago.
The chestnut filly went on to win four grade I races in succession—the Longines Kentucky Oaks, TVG Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama Stakes, and Beldame Invitational—before shipping west for the Breeders' Cup. With her latest win, Princess of Sylmar has banked $1,667,220.
Wedding Toast, the 7-5 second favorite, was second by four lengths over Flash Forward, with Highestmaintenance and Montana Native trailing.
Princess of Sylmar was bred in Pennsylvania by Stanco out of the stakes-placed Catienus mare Storm Dixie.
"Today was beyond my expectations," Stanco said. "By giving her the time off, she got bigger, gained weight, 150 pounds, I think. Javier said she's right back in her form. This was what we were looking for. She didn't have to have a breakthrough performance today, just show us form and that you want it."
Carrying 120 pounds, the same as Wedding Toast and Flash Forward, she paid $3.80, $2.10, and $2.10. Wedding Toast paid $2.10 and $2.10 and the exacta was worth $5.30. Flash Forward paid $2.50. Villette scratched.