By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
LOUISVILLE – Ed Stanco, owner of lightly accomplished Pennsylvania-bred Princess of Sylmar, debated long and hard whether to enter her in the Kentucky Oaks or wait for the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, the filly companion race to the Preakness Stakes.
He kept looking at the plentiful early speed that figured to sign up for the Oaks and decided to try his late-running filly even if she lacked the credentials of many of the others in the field of 10. Wow, was he rewarded!
Princess of Sylmar, the second-longest shot at 38-1, packed an enormous late punch in surging past Beholder by a half-length and pulling one of the great upsets in the 139-year history of the Kentucky Oaks before 113,820 spectators at Churchill Downs.
Stanco said of his conversation with trainer Todd Pletcher about what their next move should be, “I said, ‘If she’s healthy and happy and with the speed, why not give it a try?’ ”
Pletcher did not require a lot of convincing.
“The one thing I said is, ‘If they go fast early, this filly wouldn’t shock me if she won,’ ” Pletcher said.
They went very fast early. Midnight Lucky broke sharply from post two and blazed the opening quarter in 22.84 seconds. The opening half went in 46.79 seconds. She blistered three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.34 for jockey Rafael Bejarano. The winning time was 1:49.17.
That was way too swift for a filly that had made only two previous starts.
“It looked like she was going easy,” Midnight Lucky’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said. “But when they posted the fractions, I thought, ‘Oh, we’re going pretty fast.’ And she got pretty tired. We had an inside post, so we had to go with her.”
Beholder, last year’s juvenile filly champion, looked to gain control of the 1 1/8-mile race when she collared withering Midnight Lucky around the final turn and charged past. But the pace and the seemingly endless Churchill Downs stretch proved to be huge assets for Princess of Sylmar and jockey Mike Smith in her first Grade 1 test.
Princess of Sylmar was a runner-up to Close Hatches in the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes in her previous start on April 6 at Aqueduct. Stanco’s willingness to up the ante despite that result was worth $600,000. His daughter of Majestic Warrior – the first horse he ever bred – returned $79.60 for a $2 win wager.
Pletcher also took third with previously undefeated Unlimited Budget and fourth with the 3-2 favorite, Dreaming of Julia. He also sent out Silsita, who finished last of 10. Pletcher’s top three finishers all were banged around leaving the starting gate.
Pletcher believed the rough start dashed the hopes of Dreaming of Julia.
“She got creamed coming out of there and it is hard to overcome that sort of thing,” he said. “She tried hard to make it up and she ran courageously. But it was too much to ask.”
Trainer Richard Mandella thinks Beholder, the top 2-year-old filly last year, may have lost the race before it began.
“She might have lost this race in the post parade,” he said. “She was so full of herself and wanting to go that she was a handful in the parade.
“At home, we can get her to settle down. But here, with all the people, it was a different story. But she ran well and we’re proud.”
Many trainers described the star-studded field as the deepest in memory. Eight starters boasted graded stakes victories. Seven were coming off victories. Princess of Sylmar could not make either claim.
Not that it mattered.
For an Equibase chart, click here.
PRINCESS OF SYLMAR EDGED PAST BEHOLDER TO WIN THE KENTUCKY OAKS
Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com