As far as royal families go the Stancos hardly ring a bell
with anyone outside the world of Thoroughbreds. But to those in the horse
racing know, the man behind leading three-year-old filly, Princess of Sylmar,
Ed Stanco, may be considered a Commoner King.
Faced with the completely unlikely circumstance of breeding
and owning the leading contender for the Three-year-Old Filly Eclipse Award
after his Princess of Sylmar defeated her elders and the reigning queen in
Royal Delta, Stanco wears his crown on a tilt. A fan of the game long before
heading up the King of Prussia Stable partnership, Stanco prefers meeting with
his horse’s loyal followers more than the media that swarm him after each of
Princess of Sylmar’s victories.
As Stanco finally grabbed a bite to eat 90 minutes after his
homebred notched her fourth straight Grade I victory in the Beldame, he was
approached by just one of the many Princess watchers.
“Hi Ed, my name is Vito and I’m just a fan of your horse,”
he said with hand extended. Stanco quickly finished chewing, stood and put his
hand in Vito’s, saying, “You know what Vito, so am I.” Then as he says to just
about everybody who talks to him about his prized princess, “It’s unbelievable
This followed a similar instance outside the Beldame
winner’s circle celebration when 20 minutes after the win, spending most of it
with media outlets and Breeders’ Cup representatives, Stanco noticed the young
fan in the video below. Watch her reaction, when Stanco invites her back to the
barn to meet Princess of Sylmar following the races. (Pardon my voice as the
microphone on Ed malfunctioned. I was describing the action at hand to Ed’s
son, Adam, currently on the West Coast and unable to make the East Coast trip.)
What Stanco and his partners own is the rare occurrence of
breeding, luck, talent and confidence from having the first three…and they know
it. Part of the Princess of Sylmar’s charm is her principal owner. An actuary
by trade, Stanco knows the extremely low probability of owning such a special
equine. He also knows that simply getting a fragile Thoroughbred to the races
is an accomplishment.
having a hard time wrapping my arms around all this,” he says. Follow Stanco
around and you’ll hear this refrain often, as if he still pinches himself even
though his princess has won the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks,
Alabama and now, the Beldame.
“I was on top
of the world when we made it to the Saratoga winner’s circle with a $20,000
maiden claimer,” he says of earlier days. He also had a NY-bred champion
filly/mare in Capeside Lady, a Grade II winner, who led the 2005 Breeders’ Cup
Distaff for a short time. “I thought that was it for me, that we couldn’t go any
higher than that.”
Now Stanco and his partners find themselves in the headiest
clouds of horse racing. A place in which your horse is the leading candidate
for end of the season awards, and since she is the only current North American
horse with four Grade I wins, whispers of Horse of the Year are gaining steam.
It’s not like the Stanco/King of Prussia train needs
anything to fuel their fire. If you followed any of Horse Racing Nation’s up
close and personal videos of Princess of Sylmar this summer, you’ll recognize
the scene below, except this time Stanco had his own microphone.
In fact before the seriousness of Super Saturday, Stanco and
an extended clan of about 150 friends and family invaded, no, took over, the
Saratoga winner’s circle. Her convincing Coaching Club American Oaks and
authoritative Alabama wins stamped Princess of Sylmar a legitimate candidate
for top filly honors.
The rancorous winner’s circles with chants of “Ed-die!
Ed-die! Ed-die!” combined with high-fives all around had NYRA track
photographer trying in vain to herd the celebrants into a winner’s circle
photo. Truth was they cared little for decorum and were too busy enjoying their
moments in the sun.
Stanco soaked in all that he could those two Saturdays and
the days in between renting a home in Saratoga for the season. In the aftermath
of Princess’ wins, the victory celebration spilled over to Longfellows, a local
restaurant and function hall. There, Stanco honored his partners with silver
replicas of the Churchill glasses while the Princess’ still dirty saddlecloths
hung from the rafters. Even trainer, Todd Pletcher
received a cowboy hat as a gift one night back in July.
Magic, luck, happenstance or simply universal karma at work,
Princess of Sylmar fell into Stanco and his partners’ hands. Most know the story of how Stanco was
forced to call a last minute audible when breeding his mare, Storm Dixie,
originally scheduled to mate with Grand Slam. When Grand Slam went down with an
injury, Stanco was faced with the challenge of deciding on whether to match
Storm Dixie to fill-in, freshman stallion, Majestic Warrior.
“I said, ‘How long to I have to decide?’ They said [Storm
Dixie] is ready now, you have about 10 minutes and that’s when I said, ‘OK, why
Son Adam Stanco agrees that luck in breeding helped, but his
dad’s careful planning has picked up where Princess of Sylmar’s genes started.
“Every decision my dad has made in racing Princess has been calculated. Think
about it, how many Todd Pletcher trainees start their careers at Penn National?
Those races on the cold, Aqueduct track when nobody knew about her – that was
part of the plan. He could see something special in her then.”
“My dad wanted to build her confidence,” Adam Stanco
continues. “Even taking her to Churchill to race in the Oaks when many didn’t
give her a chance was careful planning.”
Thoughtful. Humble. Grateful. These are the words that come
to mind after spending parts of Princess of Sylmar’s magical run of Grade 1
victories with Stanco, his family and partners in racing. I briefly met Stanco
in the paddock of the Kentucky Oaks, who, while in awe of the moment of his
homebred, held a supreme confidence in his filly despite her 38-1 odds. “If she
has any shot in lane I like my horse’s chances,” he said that day.
She started far back before gobbling up dirt and foes down
the Churchill stretch, Princess of Sylmar both avenged an earlier loss to
multiple Grade I winner Close Hatches and beat Two-Year-Old Champion Filly,
Beholder. In fact, Princess of Sylmar beat every prominent filly in the country
in her Oaks victory.
This was part of the reason, Stanco and trainer, Pletcher,
decided to skip last week’s $1 million, Grade I Cotillion Stakes at Parx. The
draw to run on Stanco’s home track with a Pennsylvania-bred was strong, but he
“I told Todd not to let the money make a difference in his
decision,” he said. “If we’re that good let’s step up to the big leagues. Royal
Delta, Beldame Stakes, fall racing at Belmont; we’re getting called up.”
Stanco discusses all of Princess of Sylmar’s racing
moves with Pletcher before allowing the ever-successful trainer to make the
final call. He trusts Pletcher’s horse sense, and Pletcher knows Stanco’s
sharp mind can aid him in making the best decision possible.
Still Stanco’s confidence must affect Pletcher, King of
Prussia’s partners and maybe even the The Filly, herself. A few days before the
Beldame he said, “Don’t get me wrong, Royal Delta is a champion, a beast. But
she’s a grinder. I know my horse’s turn of foot and if she’s within two lengths
in the stretch I know the Princess will get there first.”
Snap back to late Saturday afternoon, as Andy Serling talks
about Stanco. “Ed Stanco is good for this game, “ he said. “In fact, we need a
1,000 more Stancos owning horses. If his horse doesn’t go to the Breeders’ Cup,
he should go anyway.”
Yes, there’s the Breeders’ Cup on the horizon, so the Stanco/Pletcher conference will happen then they’ll
come to a decision and stick by it.
“You have to remember she beat all the best three year olds
already, and today she beat Royal Delta, the best mare in the country,” Stanco
said. “Really there’s nothing left to prove, is there?”
Undeniably, Stanco will figure that out in the next few
weeks. If he does go to Santa Anita, he’ll have to let 100 of his friends and
family know, so travel and track plans can be made. It’s a little tougher
flying 3,500 miles away compared with driving a few hundred.
“You know most people get the story wrong,” said Adam
Stanco. “The narrative has been Princess of Sylmar is great despite where she’s
came from. That’s wrong, she’s great because of where she’s come from.”
“Clearly she’s a gift - the best filly in the world. How did
this happen to me?” the elder Stanco said.