In the days leading up to the Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame Invitational, trainer Todd Pletcher said it was critical for jockey Javier Castellano not to take his 3-year-old star filly Princess of Sylmar out of her track-and-attack running style when facing older champion Royal Delta.
In the Belmont Park paddock on Saturday, in the minutes before giving Castellano a leg up for the race, Pletcher reminded his jockey of the importance of the instructions. Castellano, the leading rider in New York, responded perfectly, reserving Princess of Sylmar through the opening six furlongs, engaging Royal Delta on the turn and pulling away under a strong hand ride to win by two lengths.
The upset victory all but sewed up the 3-year-old filly championship for Princess of Sylmar, who defeated the best older female runner in the country in her first try outside of the division.
Off as the 2-1 second choice in the field of five, Princess of Sylmar ran the 1 1/8-mile Beldame in 1:47.93 seconds, getting the final eighth of a mile in a swift 12.67 seconds.
The victory touched off a raucous celebration in the winner's circle, as a massive crowd connected with Ed Stanco's King of Prussia Stable broke into cheers of “Eddie! Eddie!” as the owner made his way through the throng.
Princess of Sylmar was eligible to run last week in the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion at Parx Racing against other 3-year-old fillies, but trainer Todd Pletcher said the Beldame carried far more prestige.
“We have a lot of respect for how good Royal Delta is,” Pletcher said, “and it says a lot about Ed Stanco that we could have gone to what appeared to be an easier spot on paper, and we came here and took on the defending champ and were a deserving winner. It wasn't about the money, you know?”
Princess of Sylmar, a homebred, has now won four straight Grade 1 races – the Kentucky Oaks, the TVG Coaching Club America Oaks, the Alabama and the Beldame.
“This is a new stratosphere for us,” Stanco said. “When [exercise rider] Jake Nelson was on her in Saratoga two days after we won the Alabama, I walked out with her and she was full of herself. He said she hasn't missed a beat. Todd told me Tuesday she was just perfect in her training. He felt very confident.”
Going into the race, with just five runners in the field, Pletcher knew there was a chance Royal Delta, who has led gate-to-wire in her prior two victories, could get away to an easy, uncontested lead.
Royal Delta opened at odds of 1-9 and went off at 2-5 with $737,962 bet on her in the show pool.
When the gate opened, long shot Roman Invader went to the front from her inside post, with Royal Delta comfortably stalking off her right flank and Princess of Sylmar back in fourth behind Centring.
Royal Delta took the lead on the backstretch, but Roman Invader regained it through a half-mile in 46.71 seconds. On the turn, Royal Delta took command through six furlongs in 1:10.53, but Princess of Sylmar was poised to attack.
The two dueled briefly at the top of the lane, but Princess of Sylmar pulled away. Royal Delta was followed home by Centring, who was 6 ¾ lengths behind the runner-up, And Why Not and Roman Invader.
“Royal Delta was my target all the way in the race,” Castellano said. “When I saw she didn't take off at the quarter pole, which usually she does, I thought, 'Whoa, I think I have a chance to win the race.'”
Princess of Sylmar paid $6.20 for a $2 win bet.
The winner's purse of $240,000 increased her lifetime earnings to $1,607,220.
Asked after the race if he would supplement Princess of Sylmar to the Breeders' Cup Distaff, Pletcher said it was too soon to decide.
“I don't think that's a question we can answer right now,” he said. “We need two or three more weeks to sort that out.”
See the full chart here.
Beldame Invitational (G1) Quotes
Todd Pletcher, winning trainer of Princess of Sylmar (No. 2): “I just wanted to emphasize, 'Let her run her race. Don't chase. Wherever you are, let it be on her terms, and just try to sit back and play to her strengths'. I felt like if there was anyone on paper who could do that, it was her. It was nice [Royal Delta] didn't get completely loose. We kind of got within striking distance at the quarter pole and I thought we had a big shot.”
“Like I said before the race, we have a lot of respect for how good Royal Delta is, and it says a lot about [owner] Ed Stanco that we could have gone to what appeared to be an easier spot on paper [the $1 million Cotillion at Parx Racing] and we came here and took on the defending champ and were a deserving winner. It wasn't about the money, you know?”
Breeders' Cup? “I don't think that's a question we can answer right now. We need two or three more weeks to sort that out.”
Javier Castellano, winning jockey aboard Princess of Sylmar (No. 2): “It was a small field. My filly put me in a good spot. The only thing Todd told me was to ride with a lot of patience. I think she did it the right way today. She kept track of Royal Delta all the way. Turning for home, I didn't see Royal Delta take off, and my filly just grabbed me. When I let her go she just took off and opened up. I'm very satisfied. She's an amazing filly.”
“If you asked me what the pace was, I couldn't have told you. I thought 48 or 49. My filly did it so easy. I was a little concerned the first half because my goal was just to get her in a good spot and I had to use her a little bit early in the race to get her into a good spot. Turning for home, I turned her loose just a little bit and she gave me the gear and she took off.”
“Royal Delta was my target all the way in the race. When I saw she didn't take off at the quarter-pole, which usually she does, I thought, 'Whoa, I think I have a chance to win the race'.”
Ed Stanco of King of Prussia Stable, winning owner of Princess of Sylmar (No. 2): “This a new stratosphere for us. When [exercise rider] Jake Nelson was on her in Saratoga two days after we won the Alabama, I walked out with her and she was full of herself. He said she hasn't missed a beat. As you might have noticed, she's gone into a growth spurt and has put on weight. Todd told me Tuesday she was just perfect in her training. He felt very confident.”
Bill Mott, trainer of beaten favorite and runner-up Royal Delta (No. 4): “[Princess of Sylmar] came to us and beat us today. I think Royal Delta is doing well. We looked for a big race from her. I think she ran a good race, maybe not her best race.”
“When she put [Roman Invader] away on the turn, I thought she'd go ahead and open up a little more than she did. No big excuse. It was an incredible race. You have to give the winner her due. She's Champion Three-Year-Old, that's for sure.”
Do you have any concerns going into the Breeders' Cup off this loss? “I've won more Breeders' Cups finishing second in the Beldame than winning it.”
Mike Smith, jockey aboard beaten favorite and runner-up Royal Delta (No. 4): “She didn't necessarily stumble in front, but just kind of lost her footing for a jump or two. She got up and still was in a comfortable place where I wanted to be. [Princess of Sylmar] got up to me at the quarter pole and just out-footed me to the wire today. My hat's off to the winner.”
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