The Princess of Sylmar Story

For owners and trainers of 2-year-olds, autumn means a look into the proverbial crystal ball and seeing images beginning to take shape of the following spring’s classic horses, and sometimes even beyond.

Last autumn appeared no different. On Nov. 2, Beholder’s victory over grade I winners Executiveprivilege and Dreaming of Julia and grade II winner Kauai Katie in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies provided a promising peek into the future.

On Nov. 24, Unlimited Budget and Emollient ran 1-2 in the Demoiselle Stakes and justified that form by winning the grade II Fair Grounds Oaks and grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes, respectively, in 2013. On the same day, Seaneen Girl captured the Golden Rod Stakes and would come back this year to romp in the Monmouth Oaks. On Nov. 17, Rose to Gold won the Delta Downs Princess Stakes and carried her form into 2013, winning the Fantasy Stakes and Honeybee Stakes. On Nov. 22, Fiftyshadesofhay broke her maiden at Betfair at Hollwood Park by 3 1/4 lengths and would go on to win the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and Iowa Oaks this year.

So, the foundation for the 2013 3-year-old filly division appeared to be very strong during that promising month of November.

Meanwhile, at Penn National Race Course, light years away from the traditional spawning grounds of future champions, Todd Pletcher (yes, the same Todd Pletcher) was running a 2-year-old Pennsylvania-bred filly named Princess of Sylmar in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race, in which she finished a fast-closing fourth, racing for Ed Stanco’s King of Prussia Stable. On Nov. 8, the homebred filly came back in a one-mile maiden race at Penn National, winning by a breathtaking 19 lengths. Impressive, yes, but it still was Penn National, one of the last places you would normally find one of Todd Pletcher’s brilliant 2-year-olds or a future classic winner.

But this is Thoroughbred racing, where nothing should be taken for granted. Nine months later, most of the major 2-year-stars are gone and Princess of Sylmar is one race away from nailing down the 3-year-filly championship in the Aug. 17 Alabama Stakes following a string of impressive victories over Aqueduct’s inner track, including the Busanda and Busher Stakes, and back-to-back scores in the grade I Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks, the latter by a widening six lengths.  

With the majority of the top 2-year-old fillies from last year either sidelined or heading in other directions, only Fiftyshadesofhay remains of the aforementioned group to challenge Princess of Sylmar in the Alabama.

Not only has Princess of Sylmar emerged as this year’s Cinderella story, even her mating was an accident.

Bloodstock agent and former jockey Joe Brocklebank, who actually met Stanco through Pletcher, had purchased her dam, Storm Dixie, at the Midlantic 2-year-old sale at Timonium for $67,000. The daughter of Catienus had been sold by breeders’ Ken and Sarah Ramsey at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale for only $20,000. After being withdrawn from the Ocala 2-year-olds in training sale the following year, she showed up at Timonium a month later, where Brocklebank purchased her for Stanco.

“She was an exceptionally well made filly, and Catienus turned into a good broodmare sire and the Ramseys were supporting him,” Brocklebank said. “I was all over the filly, because so was so well made and she could run. She galloped out really well at the sale. Several people told me how stupid I was spending that much money on a Catienus. She won first time out at Saratoga at 2 going a mile and a sixteenth on the grass, but just ran OK after that. When the time came to breed her, she was scheduled to go to Grand Slam, but he got kicked the night before.”

Storm Dixie was residing at Ronnie and Betsy Houghton’s Sylmar Farm in Christiana, Pa. in south Lancaster County, where Stanco’s horses are foaled and raised.

“We had to make a last-minute decision who to breed her to,” Betsy Houghton said.

Brocklebank had just the right substitute stallion. “I had looked at Majestic Warrior and he was a stunning looking individual,” he said. “The pedigree and conformation were there. I thought for the money he was a steal. At $10,000 it seemed like a no-brainer to me. So, there was no real master plan. We were just trying to match the best physical to the best physical.”

It was the Houghton’s son Bernie who actually foaled Princess of Sylmar. The Houghtons are a family-run operation, with Bernie training 33 horses at Penn National. One daughter, Robin Perry, works in the office, another daughter, Wendy Kinnamon, breaks yearling and uses their training track, and another son, Michael. is a trucker who delivers all their hay and straw. Bernie’s wife Shannon and Michael’s wife Melissa both work in the broodmare barn and assist with the foaling.

Although Betsy is one that is always quoted, she says Ronnie is the mastermind of the operation. “I just do the talking,” she said.

The Houghtons moved to Pennsylvania 37 years ago after having a farm in Maryland, which they named Sylmar Farm.

“Part of the road we lived on was in Maryland and part was in Pennsylvania, so it was named Sylmar Road – the Syl from Pennsylvania and the Mar from Maryland,” Betsy said. “We named our farm Sylmar Farm, and when we moved to Pennsylvania we were a corporation so we didn’t want to change it.

“When Storm Dixie’s filly was a couple of months old, I told Ed we had to come up with nice name for her, because we like to register them early as soon as we get the papers. He called me the next day and said, ‘Betsy, would you mind if we named her Princess of Sylmar?’ I kidded with him and said, ‘That would be fine, but that’s going to put a lot of pressure on Todd Pletcher.’ He told me, ‘She’s so pretty and I just think that would be such a great name for her.’”

Right from the beginning, the Houghtons thought they had something in Princess of Sylmar.

“Her mother was terrific to work with, and she was the same way,” Betsy said. “She always acted like a nice filly. She had a great temperament the whole time. Nothing at all bothered her and she was just a happy filly all the time. When we sent her to Todd she was breaking out of the gate and was up to three-eighths of a mile in her works. Every time we worked her she would go better than the horse she was working with. We usually only work two 2-year-olds together, because we have a five-eighths of a mile track and it’s pretty tight. Ronnie always makes sure they stay together. We don’t like to have one beat the other. But we would notice, when they came around the turn, the boy on her workmate would be riding his horse and the boy on Princess of Sylmar would be sitting still in order for them to stay together. Ronnie and I both said, “You know, this filly can run. She acts like she has a lot of ability.

“We could never believe she would turn out the way she has, but we did like her a lot. You knew just being around her that she had more than enough ability. But it was her great temperament. She didn’t like the noise of the starting gate or when the irons would hit the side, so Ronnie put cotton in her ears and it just made an unbelievable difference, and now she does everything with her ears stuffed with cotton.”

The Houghtons, who have been married for 51 years, and Stanco have had a close relationship over the years. Ronnie and Betsy run a top-classic facility, breeding, training, and breaking yearlings, with 300 acres and a one-mile turf course to go along with the dirt track. They keep about 40 mares on the farm, 10 of which are their own. All their horses are kept outside in large fields, and Princess of Sylmar wasn’t in a stall until she started being broken.

Stanco, a former resident of Schenectady, N.Y., has been with Pletcher for about a dozen years and was one of his first clients. It was Pletcher who told Joe Brocklebank to see if he could find a horse for him at the sale. He purchased Capeside Lady for $65,000 at the Timonium sale and she went on to win seven stakes and earn over $800,000, racing under the name So Madcapt Stable.

“Ed is a wonderful person and a great family man, and he thinks of nothing but this horse,” Betsy said. “He just called one day and said he had this filly (who had placed in a small stakes at Belmont at 2) who was ready to be retired and he wanted to send her here. In addition to Storm Dixie, we also have another really nice mare named Raise a Kitty for him. We have all their babies here. We have a 2-year-old (by Flatter) out of Raise a Kitty and an E Dubai yearling filly out of Storm Dixie and a couple of their babies (by Jump Start and Petionville, respectively). I talk to Ed about every day. His home is in Malvern, Pa., and that’s only about a half an hour from the farm. His family, friends, and neighbors have been so excited about this filly; she’s taken them on such a wonderful ride.”

When it was decided to send her to Penn National for her career debut, Ronnie and Betsy weren’t surprised one bit.

“She’s Pennsylvania-bred and the money at Penn National is so good now they figured it out, with the pot and breeders’ awards, it was worth running here,” Betsy said. “They had put her in a race at Parx and it didn’t go, and the track at Penn National actually is a very good surface.”

From that first race, the dream just continued to escalate and reached a state of delirium in the winner’s circle of the CCA Oaks, where 125 of Stanco’s friends and relatives, some coming from as far away as Tokyo, celebrated by shouting out Ed-die! Ed-die!

“It was an explosion of emotions,” Stanco said. “I can remember driving with my uncle down Nelson Ave. in Saratoga when I was 8 or 9 and falling in love with horses, just watching them cross Nelson Ave. to go to the main track. I started handicapping horses, then owning horses, then winning a race at Saratoga. And now to win a grade I at Saratoga was just overwhelming. It literally was the culmination of a lifetime dream. And having that many people come from all over to be there was so rewarding and so thrilling.”

When Stanco sent Princess of Sylmar to Pletcher, he told him, “Take as long as you possibly can with her. I want her perfect for her first start, and I don’t care if she doesn’t start until 3.” Even early on, the ultimate goal was the Alabama Stakes.

“One thing about Todd, he gives just as much attention to a smaller owner’s horses as he does the bigger-name horses,” Stanco said. “We actually planned her campaign starting with her allowance win in December. It was decided to go easy with her and let her grow. She won the Busanda (by 7 1/2 lengths) pushing through a wall of horses on her own. Then after she won the Busher (by seven lengths), people started saying the inner track horses aren’t that good. When Close Hatches beat her in the Gazelle, it was tough race, but probably was the best experience of her entire campaign, because we learned more from that race, that she wanted to come from behind and give that one kick.”

After following Princess of Sylmar through her inner track campaign, Stanco suddenly found himself at Churchill Downs for the Longines Kentucky Oaks. He figured Pletcher’s big filly, Dreaming of Julia, was a cut above everyone else, but felt Princess of Sylmar belonged in the next tier with four or five other fillies. He had the option of running two weeks later in the Black-eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico, but decided to go for the big one. Standing in the winner’s circle, however, he was jolted back to reality when he looked at the odds board and saw Princess of Sylmar at 38-1.

“I said to my wife, ‘Uh, oh, I think we have a problem,’” Stanco said. “I asked Todd,’ Do you really think we have a shot?’ and he replied, ‘Absolutely.’”

Princess of Sylmar proved the bettors wrong, unleashing a powerful stretch run to win by a half-length over Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Beholder, and then proved her victory in the Kentucky Oaks was no fluke by demolishing her opposition in the CCA Oaks.

“Now we have the favorite for the Alabama, and I say, ‘God, just please let her stay healthy and have a nice trip,’” Stanco said.

Stanco visits with her as often as possible and asks everyone, except Pletcher, how she’s doing. “He’s so busy, and I believe in letting the doctor do his work. Two works back, her exercise rider, Jake Nelson, had to stand in the irons to hold her back and she worked great. Now she’s had another good work and Todd has been using words about how excited he is that I’ve never heard from him before.”

Now that the Alabama is getting closer, Stanco isn’t getting too anxious. “Four days and four and a half hours to go,” he said. “I haven’t slept all week. It’s just shocking to me how far she’s come. It’s truly a blessing.”

Princess of Sylmar has a habit of digging deep into her alfalfa and then....

Flinging it out of the tub


Leave a Comment:


Neat Horse story...

13 Aug 2013 8:32 PM

Nice connections...she will be easy to root for! Thanks for writing this, Steve.

13 Aug 2013 9:54 PM
Past The Grandstand

Great piece, as always, Mr. Haskin. Thank you for shining the spotlight on this filly. How could one not possibly like her?

Mary Cage

13 Aug 2013 11:01 PM

Great story Steve.  I love her name, Princess of Sylmar, so exotic.  I like this regal little chestnut filly a lot.  I echo Stanco, may she stay sound and healthy and have a nice trip.  She may be little but she looks like she has all heart.

Thank you Steve for this insight into one of Mr. Pletcher's "forty tails."  Good luck to you pretty little Princess of Sylmar, may you add the state of "Alabama" to the states you already represent.  Go get 'em girl!!!!!!!!!  I'll be rooting for her.

13 Aug 2013 11:27 PM

Ahhh....Princess of Sylmar

I see her as a sleeper candidate for Horse of the Year.  First she has to win the Alabama and then follow it up with a win in November at the Breeder's Cup.  I'd love to see her in the Classic, but the Distaff would work just as well.

Thank you for the write-up on Princess of Sylmar.

13 Aug 2013 11:37 PM
steve from st louis

How can you not root for these people? And does Todd Pletcher get all the best horses or does he develop them? I hope someday the Phipps, Janneys and Houghtons get together and breed the Oaks winner to the Derby winner.

13 Aug 2013 11:39 PM

Really liked reading about this filly and how she brought her people to this point.  Thanks, Steve.

14 Aug 2013 6:59 AM

In the 2013 "Leading Sires" list of 150, 9% were sired by A.P. Indy. Having A.P. Indy as a grand sire certainly WAS a no brainer at 10K.

14 Aug 2013 8:40 AM

Thanks so much for this great story, Steve. Obviously, they are real horse people who care about and enjoy their horses -the best part of Thoroughbred racing. Hope she wins the Alabama and goes on to more glory!

14 Aug 2013 11:23 AM

Thanks, steve to bring up this story of a very good filly,

but don't tell to those who touted

their hype filly DOJ, they still

believe DOJ will beat every filly

on earth by 10 lenghts.

What a joker!

14 Aug 2013 12:06 PM
Blum Gone

Great story, as always, Steve.  So wonderful to see folks who really and truly CARE about this horse(s).  She is loved.

Funds are needed to rescue TB racehorses from tracks and offer them a safe retirement.    Most of these racehorses are geldings, who, in the eyes of those racing them, have “no other purpose.”

Remember Me Rescue has set up a special fund which will enable them to contact owners and trainers of horses that have earned more than $500,000 and are running for a claiming price of $5000 or less and then offer them retirement, rehabilitation, retraining and rehoming. Please consider a donation in Monzante’s memory, or in the memory or honor of any other horse you love.

A couple of TBs’ retirement are currently being negotiated, but funds are needed towards that purpose.  Please feel free to post this request wherever you feel its appropriate.

For the horses!

14 Aug 2013 12:36 PM
Love 'em all

I know who I'll be rooting for Saturday afternoon ... from my TV chair.  Princess Sylmar, the very talented pretty horse with cotton in her ears!  Reminds me of another young lady who ran with cotton in her ears ... and liked to come from behind ... and had a good kick!   This is exciting!  Cheers to Princess Sylmar and all her good folks.

Wonderful story, Mr. Haskin.

She made the cover of the B-H July 27th issue, but I'm just now noticing those cotton balls!  

14 Aug 2013 2:02 PM

Thanks for writing about Princess and her connections. I love stories about people and horses like this.  I want her to win the Alabama so much.

14 Aug 2013 4:43 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

Good luck to Princess of Sylmar and her people.

15 Aug 2013 12:05 PM

Nice to read more about this terrific little filly.  I really knew nothing about her at all before the Kentucky Oaks.  Would love to root for her in the Alabama and I think she has a great chance...but I have to stick with Tell A Great Story since she is a Sagamore Farm homebred!  Good luck and  a safe trip to all!

15 Aug 2013 5:25 PM

If Mr. Ed was up there strolling through Pletcher Paradise in Saratoga and he caught a glimpse of Princess of Sylmar he would be singing his "Pretty Little Filly With The Ponytail!!!!"  It's so cute, I think the episode of him singing it is on YouTube somewhere.

Steve I hope you are having morning coffees and beautiful strolls in the morning through Pletcher Paradise up there in Saratoga and enjoying every minute of it.  

15 Aug 2013 9:58 PM

And when Princess of Sylmar flings her alfalfa out of her feed tub, Mr. Ed can sing his famous, "I've Got The Empty Feedbag Blues" to her.

Ok, Ok, I'm losing it.  Got a bad case of Saratoga fever I guess!

16 Aug 2013 6:45 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


  I think that Mr. Ed should sing New York New York at the Belmont Stakes this year. I don't know why they always have a human singing it. A horse should be singing it at a horse race. Of course. Do you endorse?

17 Aug 2013 8:35 AM

Steve, watching Princess of Sylmar from her first race has been enthralling to watch. The connections exude the wonderful excitement of having a champion horse.

Hopefully, Princess of Sylmar completes the happy story this afternoon.  

17 Aug 2013 4:21 PM
Susan from VA

Princess of Sylmar's win in the Alabama just brought a smile to my face.  It's been a few years since I've whooped when a horse made its move. I am still smiling.  How big is she?  I like the little ones.

17 Aug 2013 5:54 PM
Steve Haskin

What a great victory by the Princess. You gotta love her. And her connections are all wonderful people. And what a great victory for Pennsylvania.

17 Aug 2013 7:52 PM
Stephie Clare

I love this filly!  And she won today big time.  She's the champ.  

17 Aug 2013 8:17 PM

    For those that know of my honest approach to posting, this is not me boosting at all.

    Of all the horses, fillies and /or colts, that I personally looked into last year,--over 350 2 year. olds.?--on my own ‘breeding rating system’ alone,--with “Princess of Sylmar” ‘rated’ as the only horse in my system then--before some this year up-grading tweaking that will add some likely about c. 25 points to colt’s ‘ratings’ and c. 35 points to fillies’s ‘ratings’, all due to adding points for breeding with such like accomplished 10 & 12 fur. runners added and some older Triple Winner’s lines, and, etc. adding upgraded points to ‘breeding lines’,--she rated out as the only 2 year old then, fillie or colt,  that scored over “400” for me. Thusly, I not only bet her in the Kty. Oaks--at 38-1?, --‘win and place’, but also had her as the only fillie that I put money $$$ on in the ‘future Pool #2’,  at 27-1? --collecting on both bets that were reached at all via her ‘breeding rating’--my system-- alone. And that all so, where going into the Kty. Oaks her wins were really not that impressive and her 2nd in N.Y. in her last race before the Kty. Oaks, was hopeful, but did not over fill me with confidence going into the Kty. Oaks by any stretch, regarding that “lil’ Penn. National fillie’.

    But, all much like “Super Saver” in the past, IF YOU believe that horse can ‘peak’ come the first Saturday in MAY that stands out for some reason ‘BREEDING WISE’,--where like “Super Saver” who had c. 11-13 links to the “BHXFG” strains--the “Big Heart ‘X’ Factor Gene” strains,--with my files that far back now deleted, but some 7-8 above average for a colt then though in any rate, and again not a great looking hoss ‘on paper’ via his record going into “the Derby”, but also the eventual winner in Kentucky come the “the first Saturday in May”,--“Princess of Sylmar” not only had 14 links to the “BHXFG” strains, but had the required strong dam side which was also intriguing. Yes, when e-mailing my older brother regarding her, I often referred to her as that “lil’ Penn. National fillie’ or “the fillie out of Penn. National”. In any event, she was intriguing to me as a ‘playa’, and I did collect on all bets on her and all at attractive prices, and that all so, all based on ‘breeding rating’ alone,--not some fast “Beyer” figure, or some ‘I like the trainer’, or some “Bellamy Road run”, or some such angle, or other, or etc., but simply on her ‘breeding rating’--my own system--alone.  

  For those who are already curious about up and comers for this coming year, I have already found 2 colts this year that rate in the high ‘400’s’ that would have rated only a little lower last year,--my system--and one in the high 300’s with 13 links to the “BHXFG”, but again… in the HIGH 400’s !!! and several fillies as well, and these among those 450 plus that will come out of the wood work before now and April of 2014, and that with a 2 year old foundation under them, OR NOT.

 In any event, with the economic depression now mildly over, the breeding up,--and the likes of Sheik not buying and shipping near all well-breds off to Arabia,--things are looking up. Wow, sons from “Dennis the Cork”, “No Biz Like Showbiz”, and, etc.--all high ‘rated’ breeding wise--coming out this year. Thusly, the Grade I $2 mil. BC JUV., and the Gr. I  $2  mil. BC JUV fillies, can only make the hunt for the Derby and Oaks this year that much more interesting.

 Oh, to “the TRAIL”.

 Well, as always fellow ‘bloggers’,--and those fellow addicted gambler horse ‘playas’, like myself,--out there, good luck at those windows, and stay well.

 And as a personal note to Steve,--who all know I do love with a passion although we have our differences on thoughts of rating the “eventual Derby runners”, TY, and a great article as always. With that ‘winning’ smile on my face thinking of that “lil’ Penn. Nationals fillie’ now fresh, that yesterday was mostly but a past memory, the article touched me as many of your intriguing stories,--such as that on--the now ol’ Va.-bred “Secretariat”,--always do. Again, Thank You.

 “Good Day.” and “Go BABY Go BABY Go ”. -- “Zarvona”,  the Virginian spy.

18 Aug 2013 8:46 AM
Kris Marshall

Princess of Sylmar would be a truly deserving champion.  But, I fail to understand the racing media's rush to give her the Eclipse.  A Beldame-Distaff or Zenyatta-Distaff double by a top 3 year-old filly ( OK, I'm talking about Beholder) would certainly be worthy of Eclipse consideration.

18 Aug 2013 1:53 PM

The "Princess" is having her well-deserved Cinderella moment. As are her unassuming breeder and owner connections. How can you not root for the Princess?  Now she will get her respect and maybe even an Eclipse Award to reward her for her easy-going winning ways!  

18 Aug 2013 2:31 PM

Dr. D,

Yes!  I endorse!  Great idea.  And now Mr. Ed can sing to his Princess his newly recorded song, "Alfalfa Flingin' Filly."  I'm even rolling on that one!  Dr. D what do I do for my bad case of Saratoga fever other than get in my car and do the 3 hour drive by myself?????

Congratulations to little miss Princess of Sylmar, I knew she could do it.  I am proud of her.  Congratulations to Mr. Pletcher too on the micromanagement of all these forty tails.  How does he do it?

Travers should be a great race.

19 Aug 2013 6:47 PM

Lyrics to Mr. Ed's new song:

"Alfalfa Flingin' Filly"

I've got an Alfalfa Flingin' Filly

Just can't keep food in her tub.

Yes, she sometimes is so silly,

My little chestnut.... hubba hub.

I've got an Alfalfa Flingin' Filly

She just sets my tail aspin.

Yes she's my Saratoga Baby,

How about her Alabama win!!!!

I've got an Alfalfa Flingin' Filly...........

19 Aug 2013 8:23 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


    What do you do?- Learn to sing O Mio Babbino Caro then teach it to Mr. Ed. That ought to keep you busy and take your mind off of Saratoga, but don't get so caught up in the song that you forget to watch The Travers. It's going to be a doozy, as you said. Nice song, I like it. The movie is going to be called- My Alfalfa Flingin' Floozy, She's a Doozy. Can we use floozy? Or is it politically incorrect?

19 Aug 2013 11:11 PM

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