Ed Stanco most likely will not have an Eclipse statue on his mantle, or
wherever he is displaying his collection of Princess of Sylmar trophies. But
that is the only thing he won’t have. What he does have is the respect of
everyone in the industry, most notably the fans, Santa Anita, and the Breeders’
Stanco, along with trainer Todd Pletcher, stated a while
back that Princess of Sylmar would make her last start of the year in the
Beldame, and even that was pushing it one step farther than what was originally
We can understand Pletcher wanting to push it one more time.
When you’re assembling the Greek army to go to war, you want to make sure you
have Achilles leading the charge. Pletcher’s army, as strong as it might have
been without the Princess, was infinitely more imposing with her.
But in Stanco’s case, he had no army to back up his Princess. It was all or nothing. She could sit out the battle as originally planned and let history dictate her rightful place among the greats or she could risk her invincibility by traveling 3,000 miles at the end of a year-long campaign and challenge Beholder on the battlefield on which her only rival to
the 3-year-old throne had proven unbeatable. And, of course, there was the Queen
of the older mares, Royal Delta, who the Princess had already beaten into
submission in the Beldame.
Stanco knew the risks that went along with his decision. But
he also knew that a victory by the Princess would catapult her reputation into
a stratosphere only a handful have been able to reach. And he knew that racing
would benefit from her presence at Santa Anita. He knew the fans would benefit.
He knew the Breeders’ Cup and Santa Anita would benefit. He knew her presence
would turn an already attractive Friday card into one with historic
implications and bring thousands more to the track.
This was horse racing the way the traditionalists remember
it, in its purest form. This was the foundation on which the Sport of Kings was
built – my horse against your horse, winner take all. There would be no
prisoners, just two exceptional fillies on the threshold of greatness fighting
for their place in history.
As we all know, it was too much to ask of the Princess. She
wasn’t herself before or during the race and had absolutely nothing to give at
any point. It was not a case of Beholder beating her. It was a case of her
But this column is not about the Princess’ performance and
why she ran so poorly. It is about something you rarely see in this sport
anymore – sportsmanship. Sure, Stanco thought the Princess could walk on water.
He had every right to. This is not the stage on which she was envisioned
performing when running around the fields of Pennsylvania as a yearling or
competing in her first two starts at Penn National. Winning a grade I stakes at his beloved Saratoga had been a lifelong dream for Stanco, and the Princess wound up winning two of them.
Each step since her early days at frigid Aqueduct back in
the dark days of winter had taken her closer to the gates of the pantheon. And
now that she was there, Stanco could not bring her back down, wrap her in
Styrofoam, and watch the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on TV, wondering ‘What if?’ When
you’re on cloud nine and are the toast of Saratoga, having heard the cheers of
thousands of appreciative and admiring fans, it’s difficult to come back down
A guy like Ed Stanco, who has spent most of his racing life
with his head buried in past performances and standing in mutuel lines, isn't
used to signing autographs and having people come up to him to shake his hand
and congratulate him and praise his horse. Right or wrong, he just couldn’t
back off now with so much history at stake, and with the Breeders’ Cup and TV
analysts and writers all urging him to run for the good of the sport.
With the way Beholder ran over her home track, Stanco’s
decision may or may not have cost the Princess an Eclipse Award. But Eclipse
winners come and go, some of whom are remembered and some of whom are not. It
is important to remember that in the equine categories, these are the only
awards in America where the winners would prefer a carrot over the award.
Immediately after the Distaff, Stanco still was upbeat with
his head held high and would not second-guess his decision. Later that month at
Aqueduct there still was not the slightest sign of remorse.
The place on Stanco’s mantle reserved for an apparent
Eclipse Award likely will have to remain vacant...for now. But there will always be the Kentucky
Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama Stakes, and Beldame Stakes trophies
to occupy his attention. And that vacant spot can always be filled with all the
special memories the Princess provided all year, as well as the respect Stanco
earned from everyone in the industry and their gratitude. That in many
ways is worth more than a statue.