She was born less than 30 miles from Delaware Park. An approximate 45 minute drive, first on route 7 (Limestone Road) and then route 41 (Lancaster Pike), into Pennsylvania pass Avondale and a little further west until you get Christiana, Pennsylvania. That is where Princess of Sylmar, a winner of nearly $2 million and four Grade 1 victories was born. On the farm she has been named after -- Ron and Betsy Houghton's Sylmar Farm.
Her primary owner, Ed Stanco, resides and raised his family in Malvern, Pennsylvania. The 64-year-old reinsurance broker brought his three sons -- Eric, Adam and Randy -- to Delaware Park on a regular basis in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He vividly remembers some of the most memorable Delaware Handicaps.
"It is unbelievable," said Ed Stanco, who bought a share of his first racehorse in 2000. "I would have never believed we would have a filly that has a very good shot at the Delaware Handicap. Everybody we know, everybody who is connected to this horse, is going to be at Delaware Park. I am very excited about having the opportunity to run our filly in this race. She is coming back home and for us that is really exciting."
On Saturday, he will have his chance to win his own Delaware Handicap. He will have his chance to have his King of Prussia Stable silks hung in the restaurant honoring the 1 1/4-mile filly and mare summer classic. Princess of Sylmar will be one of the favorites in the $750,000 event -- one of the richest and most prestigious races in the female division.
"I have seen plenty of Delaware Handicaps," Stanco said. "I saw Unbridled Belle, Blind Luck, Fleet Indian, Island Sand, Irving's Baby, Lu Ravi, Tap to Music, I know them all. I am also very aware of the history of the race.
"If you go in the Delaware Handicap room, it is unbelievable -- Christiana Stables, Hobeau Farms, Bohemia Stables and Brandywine Stables. The race has a special history and it has a special place in my heart and with my family. When I go back and look at the recent winners of the Delaware Handicap -- Blind Luck, Havre de Grace (second), Life at Ten -- I just cannot believe that my partners and I own a horse at that this level who is a contender for the Delaware Handicap. That has not sunk in yet."
Her modest beginning starts with her dam, the stakes-placed Storm Dixie, whom King of Prussia Stable campaigned from 2006 through 2008. After a racing career of a win, two seconds and a third from 10 starts, it was decided to breed her to Grand Slam. But on the day before the scheduled breeding in Kentucky, Grand Slam had been kicked and the replacement stallion Majestic Warrior had been selected. After the breeding, Storm Dixie was shipped to Sylmar Farm where she delivered her first foal -- the first foal bred by Ed Stanco -- on March 27, 2010.
"You have got to be careful giving a name to a filly," Stanco said. "I could not come up with a name that I thought was appropriate that matched up Storm Dixie with Majestic Warrior. I hate goofy names. As far as I am concerned, for a filly it is hard because you really have to make sure it is special.
"So I could not come up with a name, but I asked Ronnie and Betsy Houghton, 'I cannot come up with a name I like, but would you mind if I named her Princess of Sylmar?' They said, 'Yes, but that is going to put pressure on us!' So for them, it has been incredible that this filly was named after the farm where she was born. Everybody from farm is going to be at Delaware Park on Del 'Cap Day."
Princess of Sylmar began her racing career at Penn National in a Pennsylvania-bred maiden going 5 1/2 furlongs. The Todd Pletcher trainee finished fourth. In her next outing, she posted a 19-length score in a one-mile maiden at Penn. She won her next three outings, including two stakes, all at Aqueduct.
After running second in the Gazelle, Princess of Sylmar began a winning streak of four straight Grade 1 victories. On May 3, 2013, she posted a half-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs at odds of 39-to-1. She followed with a six-length triumph in the CCA Oaks and then a 2 1/2-length win in the Alabama Stakes. Both of those races were at Saratoga. Finally, she defeated the top filly and mare in the country, Royal Delta, by two lengths in the Beldame at Belmont. She closed her 2013 season by finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita.
This year, in her four-year-old debut, she won the $100,000 Cat Cay at Aqueduct. In her most recent, she ran second, beaten a head to Close Hatches in the $1 million Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 7.
"It has been unbelievable," Stanco said. "It has really been a life-changing experience of us. It takes you to a whole level. Every night when I come home and look at the Kentucky Oaks trophy on our mantle, I just cannot believe it. Still -- a year and half later, I still cannot believe it."
As a fan of Delaware Park racing, Stanco is well aware of two Delaware Park traditions. First, the humidity and second, it never rains during racing hours at Delaware Park on Saturday.
"I have been to plenty of Delaware Handicaps and I have experienced the infamous humidity in the area and I am a little concerned about that," Stanco said.
"I listened to Rich Glazier on the radio every Saturday and he always says 'It never rains at Delaware Park on Saturday.' So I decided to call him up and reminded him that it better not rain that Saturday."
Should Princess of Sylmar win the Delaware Handicap, Pletcher will set the record for most wins by a trainer in the Delaware Handicap. Currently, he has four victories. He won the Delaware Handicap in Irving's Baby (2001), Fleet Indian (2006), Unbridled Belle (2007) and Life at Ten (2010). He is tied with legendary Delaware Park trainer Henry Clark who won the race with Endine in 1958 and 1959 and Obeah in 1969 and 1970.
Princess of Sylmar would become just the second Pennsylvania-bred to win the Delaware Handicap. The only one so far is Mrs. H.D. Paxson's homebred filly Heavenly Ade, who won the race in 1980.
This Saturday will also be a very special day for Princess of Sylmar's jockey, Javier Castellano. The 2013 Eclipse Award winner will celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary as well.
"It seems like yesterday that Abby and I got married," Castellano said. "Now, we have three beautiful children -- Kayla, Sienna and Brady. We are very lucky in so many ways. I am looking forward to celebrating my anniversary with my family and hopefully winning a Grade 1. It is going to be a pretty emotional day."
The 36-year-old native of Maracaibo, Venezuela, will have a great chance to win his first Del 'Cap.
"She is always very close in every race she runs," Castellano said of Princess of Sylmar. "Unfortunately, the only time she did not show up was the Breeders' Cup. That day, the track did not fit her style of running. All speed horses did well that day. She runs well at nearly all distances, but she is the kind of horse that likes to come from behind a little bit and she takes some time to get her kick. She has won at a mile and a quarter before, so the Delaware Handicap will fit her style."
The New York multiple season-leading jockey has won plenty of important races, including the Breeders' Cup Classic aboard Ghostzapper in 2004 and the Preakness Stakes aboard Bernardini in 2006, and he is looking forward to having a chance to notch another Grade 1 victory.
"Anytime you go out of town and ride in a big race, especially a Grade 1, it is a pretty big deal," Castellano said. "But this race is a little more special for me. My brother Abel rides at Delaware Park, so I really feel comfortable there. I know a lot of the riders from Delaware Park, both former and current and it is has always been a great colony -- so that is another thing that makes it pretty special.
"In 2011, I won the Delaware Oaks but I have never won the Delaware Handicap, a special race and I would really love to win."
Princess of Sylmar's possible rivals include Molly Morgan and Flashy American, the respective top two from the June 14 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs; Gamay Noir, winner of the local prep, the Obeah, on June 14; and Zucchini Flower, fourth to Gamay Noir in the Obeah.