Since closing with a furious late rush to finish fourth in a 5 ½ furlong state-bred race at Penn National in her career debut, Princess of Sylmar has come a long way, baby. From modest beginnings, can a Kentucky Oaks champion come? I have reason to believe that the answer may be yes, and at most attractive odds.
In a season seemingly top-heavy with talented young fillies, King of Prussia Stable’s Pennsylvania-bred miss might seem to be in over her head. Dreaming of Julia’s monster win in the Gulfstream Park Oaks demands favoritism, but big performances by Beholder in the Santa Anita Oaks, Midnight Lucky in the Sunland Park Oaks, Unlimited Budget in the Fair Grounds Oaks, Emollient in the Ashland, Rose to Gold in the Fantasy, and Close Hatches in the Gazelle, have this year’s premier race for three-year-old fillies shaping up as a clash of titanesses.
If you like one of those fillies, I can’t blame you, but I will tell you that all of them like to be on, or near, the early lead. Throw into the mix more quality speed, like Live Lively and Flashy Gray, and you have all the makings of a brutal early pace. So just who would benefit from all these excellent fillies knocking heads early and often? Enter the Good Princess.
In Princess of Sylmar’s next four starts after that debut loss back in October, the daughter of Majestic Warrior struck fear into her overmatched opponents. Winning a maiden, allowance, and the Busanda and Busher Stakes by an average of nearly ten lengths, she became the Northeast’s top sophomore filly. Her powerful finishes convinced her connections that she was indeed of Kentucky Oaks quality. So, a plan was formed.
Step one was a freshening for the Todd Pletcher charge, and a return to the races just over two months later in the Grade 2, $250,000 Gazelle, a 1 1/8-mile race at Aqueduct. Traditionally run in the fall, the Gazelle has now taken on the role as the female version of the Wood Memorial. On paper, Princess of Sylmar’s second place finish in the Gazelle may seem to have been a slight disappointment, but if you understand the dynamics of the race, and look at it as merely a prep for the Kentucky Oaks, I see it as only a vehicle to raise her odds on May 3.
As has been true in all of her races, Princess of Sylmar did not get a lot of pace to run at as Bill Mott’s unbeaten Close Hatches was alone on the lead. This fate was sealed when the third talented filly in the field, Walkwithapurpose, was surprisingly backed off the pace of Close Hatches. This left Princess of Sylmar in the less than ideal predicament of trying to chase Close Hatches throughout. She did, and she was good enough to challenge at the head of the stretch, but the front runner had plenty of speed in reserve, and pulled clear to win by 3 ¼ lengths. An impressive performance by the winner, in a race run in nearly identical time as Verrazano’s Wood win a few races later, but for Princess of Sylmar it served as only a tightener in advance of the Oaks.
I’ve looked forward for some time to see what Princess of Sylmar can do when she gets what I think she really wants to do … make a strong late run into a contested early pace. In the Gazelle, she got anything but that. Draw a line through that decent performance, and just wait to see what she can do with the kind of pace scenario almost guaranteed to happen in the Kentucky Oaks. At odds of around 20-1, I will be more than willing to put my money on a very live long shot.
Photo courtesy of Matt Shifman