A torch is passed to a Princess

September, 28, 2013
A few days ago at the revered grounds of Yankee Stadium, a torch was passed from the Great Mariano Rivera to David Roberston as the closer for a 27-time world champion. On a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon on the hallowed main track at Belmont Park, a different type of torch appeared to be handed from one champion to a future champion. When Princess of Sylmar motored past two-time Eclipse Award champion Royal Delta in the stretch to win the $400,000 Beldame by two definitive lengths, the landscape in the Thoroughbred racing world was altered.

While a third-straight victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff is hardly out of the question for Royal Delta, her status as the best filly or mare in the land took a tumble.

I've won more Breeders' Cups finishing second in the Beldame than winning it.

-- Bill Mott, trainer Royal Delta
Right now, Princess of Sylmar, who was dismissed at 38-1 in the Kentucky Oaks and hasn't lost since that May afternoon, would have to rate as the finest of them all on the Distaff side. Aside from the Oaks, the 3-year-old daughter of Majestic Warrior has reeled off wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama and on Saturday, in her first try against her elders, she added the Beldame to the list and the mighty 5-year-old mare Royal Delta to the roll call of females she has beaten.

"I'd say she's the best right now," jockey Javier Castellano said. "When you look at what she's done. The way she won [both the] Oaks and the Alabama, she was clearly the best 3-year-old filly and now she's beaten the best older filly … She's phenomenal."

She might even be a Horse of the Year candidate, provided owner Ed Stanco opens his checkbook. If Princess of Sylmar can defeat Royal Delta in a rematch in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and Game on Dan and Wise Dan both lose, it could leave Princess of Sylmar as a popular choice for Horse of the Year.

But Princess of Sylmar is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, meaning Stanco would have to pay a hefty fee to race her on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita in the world championships. After the Alabama, when Stanco was looking at a cost of roughly $130,000 to enter, he had little interest.

The Beldame changed the financial equation, though, as it provided $240,000 in purse money plus $40,000 that would go to Breeders' Cup expenses because the Beldame was part of the Breeders' Cup's "Win and You're In" program.

Now Stanco is looking at putting up $90,000 for a chance to earn $1.1 million from the winner's share of the Distaff's $2 million purse, and he would get $360,000 for a runner-up finish. There's even a nifty $200,000 awaiting him if the "Princess" ends up third at Santa Anita.

If the new economics and his filly's surprisingly easy win over a two-time champ were incentives enough to sway Stanco remains to be seen.

All Pletcher would say about the Breeders' Cup was "I don't know. We need two or three more weeks to sort that out."

Bill Mott, trainer of Royal Delta, was more certain.

If all goes well in the next few weeks, Royal Delta will be heading to Santa Anita in search of a hat trick in the Distaff and will be anything but a pushover in the mile-and-an-eighth test.

"I've won more Breeders' Cups finishing second in the Beldame than winning it," said Mott, who has won the last three editions of the Distaff and five overall.

With some luck and a sporting gesture by Stanco, the 2013 Distaff could put that to a test for both another Breeders' Cup victory and the possession of something highly symbolic -- a torch.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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