In a typical year, 1,600 Pennsylvania-breds compete on the racetrack for average earnings of $27,600. Of the 50,000+ who have raced across the globe since 1985, only an elite group of 31 horses have broken the seven figure mark in earnings. Over the course of summer 2020, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association will be chronicling a ten-part series featuring the select group of Pennsylvania-breds who reached the unique and rare accomplishment of $1,000,000 in racetrack earnings. Join us to celebrate and remember some of the greatest racehorses the Keystone State has produced.

Page McKenney: The Little Gelding That Could

For Dr. James Bryant and his wife Linda Davis, breeding a racehorse who would end up earning nearly $2 million on the racetrack was not one of the expectations from their three-strong broodmare band on their Richmond, Virginia farm.

At the close of her racing career in 2008, Bryant and Davis acquired the mare Winning Grace, a full sister to Grade 3 winner Finally Here. With the search for the perfect stallion match on, they traveled to Regal Heir Farm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. While there to look at another stallion, Linda Davis stumbled upon Eavesdropper, a half brother to Horse of the Year and champion stallion A. P. Indy, and instantly fell in love.

Winning Grace was bred to Eavesdropper in 2009 and remained at Northview Stallion Station until she foaled out the resulting colt on March 12, 2010. Bryant and Davis could tell the chestnut colt was special from the start, and while he was described as very smart, brave, and self-confident, they decided gelding him was the best option. At the time, Linda Davis’s Aunt Page had recently passed away, so the couple decided to name their gelding Page McKenney after combining Aunt Page’s name with one of Davis’s family’s surnames.

Sent to the barn of Jasmine Napravnik, Page McKenney debuted at the racetrack in July of his two-year-old season, but he struggled to find success. From seven starts in 2012, the gelding’s best efforts were a second and third-place effort in maiden claiming company at Laurel Park.

Returning as a three-year-old, Page McKenney picked up two more second-place finishes in five starts before finally turning things around. On June 20, 2013, the thirteenth time was the charm, and Page McKenney ran away to a three length victory over the turf at Colonial Downs. Returning to the claiming ranks next out at Penn National, Bryant and Davis were dismayed when Page McKenney was claimed by Las Vegas-native Adam Staple.

Moved to the barn of Mary Eppler, Page McKenney tallied a second in allowance company and a win in the claiming ranks for his new owner before Bryant and Davis reached out. Staple allowed the couple to buy back into 10% of Page McKenney, and they were officially on board by the time he won his second consecutive race in a starter allowance. He closed out the year with another second-place effort in two subsequent starts.

As a four-year-old in 2014, Page McKenney finally came into his own. After an off the board effort in his first race off the layoff, the gelding won a starter allowance and finished second in a starter handicap before reeling off three consecutive allowance victories at Parx. 

With success over both dirt and turf, Page McKenney had a wide variety of options. His connections decided it was time to step up to the stakes level for the Robellino Stakes at Penn National. While originally scheduled for the grass, the race was moved to the main track with no worries from Page. Tracking the pace set by favored Edge of Reality, Page McKenney drew away in the stretch to record his first stakes victory by 1 ¾ lengths. 

After finishing third in the Alphabet Soup Handicap over the grass, the gelding recorded his second stakes score while closing to a last-to-first 2 ¼ length victory over the sloppy dirt track at Parx in the First Responder Stakes. From that point forward, he campaigned almost exclusively on dirt and closed out his productive season with three consecutive second place efforts in the Mountaineer Mile, Richard W. Small, and Jewel Stakes.

Returning at age five, Page McKenney put his second place woes to rest with consecutive stakes victories in the John B. Campbell and Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park. Stepping up to the graded stakes level for the first time, the gelding tallied third-place efforts in the G2 Charles Town Classic and G3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker in addition to a runner-up finish in the G3 Pimlico Special. Returning to the listed level, Page McKenney finished second in the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes before defending his title in the Robellino, taking that contest by a hard-fought half length over Willy d’Rocket.

After losing by a nose to longshot Duff in the Roanoke Stakes, Page McKenney took a couple months off before reeling off scores in the Richard W. Small and Swatara Stakes in a ten-day span. 

Not missing a beat, Page returned at age six to add the Native Dancer Stakes by 3 ½ lengths before making a reappearance at the graded level. Assembling among a field of eight for the G3 General George Stakes, the gelding went off the 2-1 second choice behind New York-shipper Majestic Affair. Sitting in midpack, Page McKenney ranged up alongside Majestic Affair turning for home, and the pair dueled to a photo finish. Page had won by a head. 

Now a graded stakes winner, the gelding took another crack at the rich G2 Charles Town Classic, where he finished second while beaten two lengths by Stanford. Readying for another attempt at the G3 Pimlico Special, all seemed well until the morning of the race when inflammation was detected in one of Page’s tendons. 

For three months, Page McKenney was handwalked and received ultrasound shock therapy treatments for his tendon. He was sent to Nor Mar Farm in Freehold, Maryland for two months of rehabilitation on an Aquatred underwater treadmill before rejoining Mary Eppler’s barn in October. While tendon injuries oftentime end racehorses’ careers because of their tricky nature, Page McKenney reappeared in the entry box nine months removed from his last race.

Returning to defend his title in the Native Dancer Stakes for his seven-year-old debut, Page proved he was good as new while cruising to a 1 ¾ length victory. After finishing a troubled second in the John B. Campbell, the gelding was victorious again when adding the Lyman Stakes to his growing resume. He tallied a second place in the Mountainview Stakes and a close fourth (his first off-the-board effort in over three years) in the West Virginia Governor’s before taking down additional stakes scores in the Roanoke and PA Derby Champions Stakes. His season closed out with a couple poor efforts, and he was given a short rest over the winter.

Now eight-years-old in 2018, Page McKenney picked up another win when scoring by four easy lengths in the Old Hickory Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After a fourth in the G2 Gulfstream Park Mile, the gelding returned home to the mid-atlantic for the G3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park. Discounted at 7-1, Page McKenney didn’t get the best of starts before settling into fourth behind frontrunning favorites Shaft of Light and Sunny Ridge. Carried wide around both turns, it appeared all hope was lost for Page, but the old gelding kicked it into high gear turning for home. With Shaft of Light and Sunny Ridge still dueling up front, the gelding uncorked a furious late rally to sweep past both of them late to score by a half length. It was Page McKenney’s fifteenth stakes victory and twenty-second career win.

Following his Salvator Mile score, Page McKenney remained at Monmouth and picked up a second in the G3 Philip H. Iselin and a third in the G3 Monmouth Cup. Shortly after the Monmouth Cup, the gelding’s old tendon injury began to flare up again. Although it seemed to be under control enough to enter in the Sal DeBunda President’s Cup, the tendon worsened in the days leading up to the race, and the decision was made to retire the old warhorse.

From seven years on the racetrack, Page McKenney entered the starting gate fifty-eight times with twenty-two wins, sixteen seconds, and five thirds for earnings of $1,905,940. In the final five years of his career, Page finished in the money in thirty-four of his thirty-nine starts. He tallied fifteen total stakes victories and placed in fourteen others. His shining moments came with his two graded stakes scores in the General George and Salvator Mile. Claimed for $16,000 as a three-year-old, the gelding’s career ended with nearly $2 million in the bank.

Now ten-years-old, Page McKenney resided on James Bryant and Linda Davis’s farm in Virginia before beginning a second career as an eventing horse earlier this year. With the 2020 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover delayed, be sure to watch out for Page at the 2021 RRP Makeover!

Princess of Sylmar: Longshot for the Lillies

When Ed Stanco decided to breed his first ever racehorse, it didn’t exactly go according to plan.

A native of upstate New York and Pennsylvania resident for some twenty-five years, Ed Stanco had been involved as a racehorse owner for years. He was a part of a handful of other racehorse partnership ventures before creating his own racing stable under the name King of Prussia in 2003. Typically only campaigning a horse or two at a time, King of Prussia was a small operation with moderate success. In 2006, he purchased a two-year-old filly by Catienus for $67,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2yo Sale. Named Storm Dixie, the filly broke her maiden first out at Saratoga and finished second in the Crockadore Stakes from ten career races. At career’s end in 2008, Stanco decided Storm Dixie would be his first broodmare.

Diligently searching for the perfect match for his first horse as a breeder, Ed Stanco finally settled on Ashford Stud’s Grand Slam. Storm Dixie shipped from Pennsylvania to Kentucky for her date with Grand Slam, but things became complicated after the stallion was kicked by another mare and out of commission. With little time to spare, Stanco had to come up with a different stallion if he was hoping for Storm Dixie to be bred that day. Stanco’s bloodstock advisor, Joe Brockelbank, suggested sending the mare to one of Ashford’s newest additions. Majestic Warrior, winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes as a juvenile, was standing his first season at stud. With time ticking, Stanco obliged and Storm Dixie went to Majestic Warrior.

Returning to Sylmar Farm in Christiana, Pennsylvania, Storm Dixie delivered her first filly on March 27, 2010. 

The chestnut filly remained at Sylmar Farm to be raised, broken, and trained and was appropriately given the name Princess of Sylmar before being sent to the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. Taking advantage of Pennsylvania-bred incentives, Princess of Sylmar debuted at Penn National in October 2012, where she rallied from nearly twelve lengths off the pace to finish fourth, beaten only 2 ¾ lengths in the five-and-a-half furlong race.

With it evident that a longer race would be more of her forte, Princess of Sylmar returned to Penn National on November 8, 2012 for a one-mile maiden special weight. Sitting just off the pace this time, the filly took command turning for home and widened to a staggering nineteen length maiden victory. A star was born. 

Testing the New York ranks in an Aqueduct allowance race the following month, Princess of Sylmar tallied a 5 ¼ length victory for her final juvenile start.

With such dominant performances backing her up, Pletcher and Stanco decided to take a crack at the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. Princess of Sylmar made her three-year-old debut in the Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct, sitting just off the pace before drawing away to a resounding 7 ½ length victory to earn 10 points towards the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard. She followed it up the following month in the Busher Stakes, worth 50 points for the Kentucky Oaks, romping by seven lengths under a hand ride as the 1-4 favorite. 

Stepping up to the graded stakes level for her final Oaks prep, Princess of Sylmar contested the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes and faced her first stiff challenge. The lightly raced Close Hatches had traveled north after posting two good-looking victories at Gulfstream Park in Florida. By post time, Close Hatches was a slight favorite over Princess of Sylmar. When the gates sprung, Close Hatches was able to settle into an easy, uncontested lead. Princess of Sylmar, sitting further back off the slow pace, was unable to run her foe down late and settled for second, beaten 3 ¼ lengths.

Princess of Sylmar was among a four-strong Pletcher brigade for the Kentucky Oaks. Shipping to Churchill Downs a couple weeks before the race, Pletcher was so displeased with the filly’s final workout over the track that he almost considered not entering her. In the end, the decision to run won out due to the hot early pace expected in the race. Typically a closer, the quick pace was bound to set up well for Princess of Sylmar.

The 2013 Kentucky Oaks was being heralded as one of the deepest runnings in recent memory. Aside from Close Hatches, the Oaks included Pletcher’s multiple graded stakes winners Dreaming of Julia and Unlimited Budget, Bob Baffert’s Midnight Lucky, and champion 2-year-old filly Beholder, who had already tallied two additional Grade 1 victories as a three-year-old. At post time, Princess of Sylmar’s odds stood at a whopping 38-1, the second longest price in the field of ten.

With Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith getting the call aboard the filly, Princess of Sylmar broke from post 6. Right at the start, Beholder, in post 3, broke outward, while Rose to Gold, in post 9, broke inward, squeezing all five horses in between them. Stuck in the very middle, Princess of Sylmar and Mike Smith were sandwiched so badly that Smith thought he wasn’t going to stay on the filly. Miraculously, the pair recovered but dropped back to ninth, nearly eleven lengths off the pace-setting Midnight Lucky. 

Midnight Lucky, pressed by Beholder, set quick early fractions of 22.84 and 46.79. With the opening half mile behind them, Smith decided it was time to go on Princess of Sylmar, and the two began to pick off rivals to reach fourth place entering the final turn. Meanwhile, Beholder had taken the lead from a wilting Midnight Lucky and opened up two lengths on Unlimited Budget. Beholder looked to be on the way to victory, but Princess of Sylmar was still sustaining her long-winded bid. Inching closer, the filly ground her way past Midnight Lucky and Unlimited Budget to range up alongside Beholder in the final 100 yards. Approaching the wire, the chestnut filly ekked her way to a half-length advantage as the finish line passed overhead. In doing so, Princess of Sylmar became the second longest shot and second Pennsylvania-bred to win in the 145-year-old history of the Kentucky Oaks. 

Out to prove that her longshot victory was no fluke, Princess of Sylmar traveled to upstate New York for the Saratoga meet. With the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks up first, Princess of Sylmar still went off the 2-1 second choice behind stablemate Unlimited Budget. She rewarded her backers handsomely with a last-to-first six length victory while Unlimited Budget finished last.

As a native of upstate New York, Ed Stanco’s dream was to win the Alabama Stakes, Saratoga’s premier race for three-year-old fillies. He had begun dreaming of making the race way back over the winter, and remarkably, it happened. Princess of Sylmar finally received her due as the 1-2 favorite in the five-horse Alabama Stakes, closing from fourth to draw away to a 3 ½ length score for her third consecutive Grade 1 victory.

Instead of remaining among her own age group, Princess of Sylmar made the step up against older fillies and mares in her next start, the G1 Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park. The race was set to be a showdown between Stanco’s filly, the best three-year-old filly in the country, and Royal Delta, the defending champion older mare and two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner. 

With Princess of Sylmar the 2-1 second choice, Royal Delta was made a heavy 3-10 favorite. With Royal Delta contesting the pace in second, Princess of Sylmar settled back into the fourth position. As the older mare moved to take the lead around the turn, Princess launched her bid to put herself within contention in second place. Turning for home, Royal Delta maintained a slight advantage while her young foe had dead aim, and the two of them drew even approaching the final furlong. As Princess of Sylmar stuck her head in front, Royal Delta gave way, and the younger filly drew away to a two length victory for her fourth career Grade 1.

While originally not planning to send Princess of Sylmar to the Breeders’ Cup, Ed Stanco had a change of heart following the Beldame. Having established herself as the country’s leading three-year-old filly, and even being in talks as a potential Horse of the Year, Stanco felt he owed it to horse racing’s fans to send such a top horse to the world championships. Having not been previously nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, Stanco put up the steep late nomination fee and the filly was shipped west to Santa Anita, host of that year’s world championships.

The short but talented field for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff included old foes Royal Delta, Close Hatches, and Beholder. While Princess of Sylmar reeled off three additional Grade 1 victories following the Kentucky Oaks, Beholder returned to her home base of California and rested until September. She returned to post victories in the listed Torrey Pines Stakes and Grade 1 Zenyatta against older foes before entering the Breeders’ Cup. 

Despite her loss to Princess of Sylmar, Royal Delta still ended up going off the 7-5 favorite while Princess and Beholder were both posted at 5-2. As the gates sprung open, Princess of Sylmar stumbled badly and never quite recovered. Meanwhile, Beholder tracked the pace before drawing away to a 4 ¼ length victory with Close Hatches back in second, Royal Delta in fourth, and Princess of Sylmar trailing home in sixth and last.

At season’s end, when the ballots were tallied for champion three-year-old filly, Beholder won in a landslide.

Princess of Sylmar was rested over the winter and made her four-year-old debut the following April. Returning to Aqueduct for the Cat Cay Stakes, the filly closed from second-last to post an easy 3 ½ length victory as the 3-5 favorite.

Two months later, the G1 Odgen Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard was set to be a rubber match with Princess of Sylmar, Beholder, and Close Hatches all entering the race. So far that year, Close Hatches had tallied victories in the G2 Azeri and G1 Apple Blossom while Beholder prepped in and won the listed Santa Lucia Stakes. With Beholder sent off the even-money favorite, her and Close Hatches tracked a hot pace while Princess of Sylmar fell as much as nine lengths off the pace in last place. With Close Hatches taking the lead around the turn, Beholder struggled to keep up, and Princess of Sylmar began unleashing her customary bid. The chestnut filly was closing quickly on the far outside to minimize the gap between her and her foe, but her rally was just a beat too late. The two soared under the wire together with the photo finish showing Close Hatches a head in front. Beholder ended up finishing fourth.

The Ogden Phipps was arguably the last stellar race of Princess of Sylmar’s career. With two races left, she finished a lackluster second in the G1 Delaware Handicap as the 1-5 favorite before ending her career with an off-the-board effort behind Close Hatches in the muddy G1 Personal Ensign. While kept in training with an aim at a Beldame Stakes defense, it was determined that Princess of Sylmar suffered from a case of thumps, or an electrolyte imbalance, during the Personal Ensign. It was likely a recurring issue, and the decision was made to retire.

From her three years on the racetrack, Princess of Sylmar ran fifteen times with nine firsts and three seconds for earnings of $2,017,220. She finished in the top two in twelve of her fifteen races, with her only off-the-board efforts coming in her first career race, her troubled Breeders’ Cup start, and her final race. She notched seven stakes victories, four of which came at the Grade 1 level, and topped by her 38-1 upset victory in the Kentucky Oaks.

Six weeks after she retired, Princess of Sylmar was offered at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale. She commanded a sale topping $3,100,000 from Japan’s legendary Shadai Farm. Now ten-years-old, Princess of Sylmar continues to reside at Shadai Farm as a broodmare. She’s delivered five foals to date, and most recently had a filly by Lord Kanaloa.

Sahpresa: France’s Leading Lady

When Douglas McIntyre purchased a Pleasant Tap filly at the 1997 Keeneland September Sale for only $17,000, he was in for the bargain and ride of a lifetime.

Named Sorpresa, the filly would end up becoming a decent allowance horse for McIntyre before retiring for broodmare duties at his home base of Pennsylvania. For her first foal, McIntyre sent Sorpresa to Shadwell Farm’s newest stallion Sahm and attempted to sell her in foal at the following year’s Keeneland January Sale. Failing to meet reserve, she returned home to Pennsylvania in what was likely a blessing in disguise.

Although her first foal never ended up making it to the races, Douglas McIntyre decided to take another crack at breeding Sorpresa to Sahm in 2004. On February 11, 2005, she foaled a bay filly in Pennsylvania.

McIntyre decided to race the filly himself, and named her Sahpresa as a play on her sire and dam’s names. With Sahm being a son of European champion Salsabil, McIntyre decided to go the overland route and sent Sahpresa overseas to campaign in France.

Placed in the barn of Rod Collet, Sahpresa made an eight-length winning debut as a three-year-old at Maisons-Laffitte on July 29, 2008. She proceeded to finish third while only beaten a length in conditions company before stepping up to the stakes level in the Prix Coronation. Sent off at 5-1, Sahpresa rolled to her first stakes score by six lengths. In the final start of her juvenile year, the filly shipped to England for the first time where she finished fourth, defeated only 1 ¾ lengths by the boys in the Group 3 Darley Stakes.

Absent until the following May, Sahpresa made the first start of her four-year-old season a winning one when taking the listed Prix de Montretout by three lengths. Returning to the group level, she again faced off against males in the G3 Prix du Chemin de Fer du Nord and finished second by three lengths. After finishing fourth in her Group 1 debut behind the legendary Goldikova and a close second in the G3 Prix Quincy Lucien Barriere, Sahpresa took another late season trip to England for the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes. 

Each year, the Sun Chariot serves as one of the final top contests for Europe’s best middle distance fillies and mares. The 2009 rendition was essentially seen as a two-horse contest between Strawberrydaiquiri, whose four race win sequence included three consecutive wins at the listed level, and Ghanaati, a classic winner of that year’s Group 1 1000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes. Having not won since her first race of the year, Sahpresa was discounted at the second longest price in the field at 16-1. Sitting just off the lead set by Spacious, Sahpresa challenged for the lead inside the final quarter mile of the one mile contest. Wrestling the lead away from her foe by the final furlong, Sahpresa was confronted with Ghanaati’s challenge and sternly turned her back, keeping her rival at bay to cross under the wire 1 ½ lengths in front to record a Group 1 victory for her first ever group win.

With ambitions running high, the decision was made to ship Sahpresa east to Japan for the G1 Mile Championship. One of only two European runners in the eighteen horse field, the filly did little to disappoint herself when rallying to finish third, beaten only 1 ½ lengths.

Resting up over the winter after her long journey, Sahpresa didn’t reappear again until June of her five-year-old year, where she turned in a puzzlingly disappointing performance at Royal Ascot. Receiving a few more months off, she returned to her native France and looked more like herself when successfully taking the Group 3 Prix du Pin at Longchamp. With a Sun Chariot defense in order, Sahpresa returned to England to best an eleven-horse field by 1 ¾ lengths to become only the second horse in history to win two editions of the top race.

Between her admirable performance the previous year in Japan and her back-to-back successes in the Sun Chariot, Sahpresa had drawn the attention of a watchful eye. Legendary Japanese horseman Teruya Yoshida had taken a liking to Sahpresa and offered to purchase the mare from Douglas McIntyre. The mare was already aiming for another crack at the Mile Championship in Japan when the deal struck, and she sported the yellow, black, and red silks for the first time when running to a fourth-place, half-length defeat in that race. Only three weeks later, Sahpresa found herself in Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Mile, finishing third by 1 ¼ lengths in that Group 1 contest to close out her 2010 campaign.

Returning for one final year at age six, Sahpresa kicked things off on the right foot with a victory in the Group 3 Prix du Palais-Royale, besting a field that included eventual six-time Group 1 winner Moonlight Cloud and soon-to-be Dubai World Cup victor African Story by 1 ½ lengths. With a record third Sun Chariot the goal before another Asian foray, Sahpresa was defeated by 1 ¼ lengths in the G1 Falmouth before nearly defeating Goldikova twice, first when finishing second by a short neck in the G1 Prix Rothschild and second while third by a length (only a nose behind Goldikova) in the G1 Jacques le Marois. 

With her third Sun Chariot looming, Sahpresa was installed the favorite in the race for the first time while bidding to make history. Settling just off the first flight of runners in the early going, Sahpresa began to gear up for her move inside the final three-eighths. With the leading runners fanning out into a line approaching the final stages, the mare kicked it into high gear to gain the advantage by the final furlong. Keeping her foes at bay, Sahpresa held off the late charge of Chacamaidee to secure her place in racing lore by a comfortable length. In over fifty editions of the historic race, Sahpresa remains the only three-time winner.

2011 Sun Chariot replay: here

With her usual trip to Asia next on the agenda, Sahpresa returned to Japan for another try at the Mile Championship, where she ultimately finished another respectable but unwinning third, beaten 1 ¾ lengths. For her final career race, she made a second trip to Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Mile and ended up eighth of fourteen while defeated by only 2 ¾ lengths in a close finish. It was enough to push her earnings past the $2 million mark.

From four years on the racetrack, Sahpresa ran twenty-two times with eight wins, four seconds, and five thirds for earnings of $2,032,282. She recorded seven wins at the stakes level and placed in eight others, with five of her stakes wins coming at the group level. Her career was topped by her record three Group 1 victories in the Sun Chariot Stakes.

Upon retirement, Sahpresa returned to Japan to live out her days as a broodmare at Teruya Yoshida’s Shadai Farm. Now fifteen-years-old, the mare has produced three foals to date with her most recent foal being her most successful. Satono Impresa became his dam’s first stakes winner with a victory in the 2020 running of the G3 Mainichi Hai before finishing fourth in this year’s Japanese Derby.

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