Princess of Sylmar (above left) defeated Beholder (right) in the Kentucky Oaks but Beholder turned the tables on her in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and the Eclipse Awards race. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Two strong cases can be made in the race for leading 3-year-old filly between two superb runners, Princess of Sylmar and Beholder. Beholder was the beauty in my eye.
Yes, after following Princess of Sylmar from her upset victory in the Kentucky Oaks through a dazzling summer campaign and into an autumn accompanied by Horse of the Year possibilities, I jumped onto the Beholder bandwagon in one day.
Of course, this was not any day. This was the day Beholder became the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion to win the Distaff at three.
Typically a frontrunner, she displayed her maturity in sitting off the pace for nerveless jockey Gary Stevens. When he asked for her run, it was over. There was never a doubt as Beholder bested Close Hatches by 4 ¼ lengths at Santa Anita Park, her home track, with hard-knocking Authenticity settling for third in the pivotal Distaff.
BEHOLDER OVERWHELMS OPPOSITION IN DISTAFF
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Princess of Sylmar? She stumbled at the beginning. Her late kick was absent on a blazingly fast surface that all but propelled speed throughout the afternoon. It was a classic case of wrong place, wrong time.
As jockey Javier Castellano lamented: “She was spinning her wheels.”
Princess of Sylmar finished last in a select field of six, 16 ¼ lengths behind Beholder under conditions that could not have been worse for her.
Should one very bad day wipe out all that Princess of Sylmar accomplished? Didn’t she edge Beholder by a half-length in the Kentucky Oaks, the day she burst onto the national scene at Churchill Downs? Didn’t she follow that with a 6-length romp in the Coaching Club American Oaks and a 2 ½-length score in the Alabama, two prestigious Grade 1 events at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York? And didn’t she dethrone Royal Delta, the Queen of Thoroughbred racing, in the Beldame Invitational Stakes, storming past her as if she was standing still for a 2-length victory in her Distaff prep?
PRINCESS OF SYLMAR DEFEATED ROYAL DELTA IN BELDAME
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Princess of Sylmar was so impressive that Ed Stanco, who leads modest King of Prussia Stable, changed his mind about competing in the Distaff. He had been steadfast that his group would not pay the $100,000 necessary to supplement their Pennsylvania-bred since she was not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup.
Voters for the Eclipse Awards prize good sportsmanship. They appreciate it when owners such as Stanco put personal interests aside to do what is best for the game. If Stanco had not asked his gifted 3-year-old filly to run one more step, she undoubtedly would have secured division honors based on her victory against Beholder in the Oaks.
But he also knew that if Princess of Sylmar extended her 4-race winning streak in the Distaff while Game On Dude and reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan stumbled in the Classic and Mile, respectively, he could make a case for Horse of the Year as well. As much as it would be nice to reward good sportsmanship during the Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park on Saturday night, Stanco knowingly took an all-or-nothing gamble. And he lost.
In the end, Beholder prevailed in five of seven starts this year with four Grade 1 victories for earnings of $1,860,000. Princess of Sylmar reached the winner’s circle six times in eight starts, including the same number of Grade 1 successes. She banked $1,539,000.
But Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella was right when he said after the Distaff, “What is the name of this game, the Breeders’ Cup Championships? Did I misread it?”
No, Richard, you did not.