May 19, 2022

Princess Noor’s retirement leaves what-ifs reminiscent of sire Not This Time

Princess Noor
Princess Noor and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Chandelier Stakes (G2) © BENOIT PHOTO

Considering that Grade 1 star Princess Noor was pulled up in Saturday’s Starlet Stakes (G1) with a tendon issue, it wasn’t a surprise that retirement loomed for the Bob Baffert trainee. Owner Amr Zedan did not prolong the decision, and his Zedan Racing Stables Twitter account announced it early Sunday morning:

For a horse of Princess Noor’s value, taking the time to convalesce and mount a comeback was unlikely to be worthwhile in the long run. There’s no guarantee of being able to return from soft tissue injuries at the same performance level. As a $1.35 million juvenile purchase who romped in the Del Mar Debutante (G1) and Chandelier (G2), Princess Noor had hit the heights pretty fast, and it’s understandable for Zedan to prefer to turn the page to her broodmare career.

Of course, this turn of events is still disappointing, leaving more than a whiff of “what-might-have-been” had Princess Noor stayed sound. In that respect, her abbreviated time on the racetrack is reminiscent of her own sire, Not This Time, who himself was forced into premature retirement – by a soft tissue injury.

By Giant’s Causeway and out of the Grade 3-winning Trippi mare Miss Macy Sue, Not This time is a half-brother to Liam’s Map, the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and Woodward (G1) hero. Liam’s Map had sold for $800,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, and his breeders, the Albaugh Family Stable, were determined not to let his younger half-sibling go – hence the name, “Not This Time.”

The decision was validated when Not This Time became a leading 2-year-old of 2016, and sparked early Kentucky Derby (G1) hopes. Although trainer Dale Romans is not shy about touting his prospects, this one more often than not lived up to his praise.

Favored every time he went to post, Not This Time fluffed the start when fifth in his 6-furlong debut Churchill Downs. Bettors backed him down to 1-2 favoritism next time at Ellis Park, and he made amends with a 10-length rout in a one-mile maiden.

Regular rider Robby Albarado, who said “Wow! Wow! Wow!” going into the winner’s circle, was effusive in his postrace comments:

“That’s impressive. What I felt was extreme talent there. What a nice horse! I rode him first time and he did everything possible wrong he could do. Today he broke, put himself in the race. I wasn’t planning going to the front, but man, a nice horse. Take nothing from the rest of them. But I could have squeezed him and sprinted home faster than he did. Some kind of feeling.”

Not This Time didn’t break cleanly in his stakes debut in the Iroquois (G3) back at Churchill. His hop out of the gate didn’t matter, though, as the 9-5 choice crushed them from off the pace by 8 3/4 lengths.

“He’s the real deal,” Romans said in the postrace quotes. “He’s spooky good and I think he’s everything I’ve always thought he was.”

That effort made Not This Time the 2.80-1 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita, where he launched a strong stretch rally but couldn’t quite get past Classic Empire. The pair drew 7 1/2 lengths clear of the Champagne (G1) winner, Practical Joke.

Off that evidence, Not This Time could have argued that he’d get the better of Classic Empire over further. His dreams of turning the tables by Derby time were soon dashed, for a soft tissue injury was discovered in his right front leg.

Not This Time embarked upon a stud career at Taylor Made in lieu of the Triple Crown trail. With his retirement, followed by the career-ending injury to Baffert’s exciting Mastery, it’s likely that the 2017 classics were missing the best of the generation. Classic Empire has a right to object to this characterization as the divisional champion at 2, but his checkered spring of 2017, nightmare trip in the Derby, and loss to the otherwise forgettable Cloud Computing in the Preakness (G1) tend to work against his claims.

As a freshman sire, Not This Time has made a real splash, ranking second to champion Nyquist in the North American first-crop standings. While Princess Noor was his headliner, he’s also furnished stakes winners Dirty Dangle and Vacay as well as Schuylerville (G3) third Hopeful Princess.

Princess Noor’s precocity, favoritism in all her starts, and early retirement fit her sire’s trajectory. Yet there are a couple of significant differences, both from her sales history and on the racetrack.

The daughter of the Grade 3-winning Wilko mare Sheza Smoke Show twice went through the auction ring. A pinhook home run, the $135,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase by Mark Marino, agent, sold for 10 times that when Gary Young bought her from the Top Line Sales consignment at OBS Spring. She had advertised herself by drilling a quarter-mile at the under tack show in a bullet :20.1.

Named in honor of Zedan’s wife, Princess Noor one-upped her sire by justifying 7-10 favoritism first out at Del Mar. She also achieved the Grade 1 laurel he missed out on when galloping in the Del Mar Debutante, and she made it three in a row with another rout in the Chandelier.

On the other hand, Princess Noor did not match Not This Time’s Brisnet Speed ratings. Unlike her sire, who improved his figures markedly in every race and boasted a 107 in the Breeders’ Cup, Princess Noor maxed out at a 96 in the Del Mar Debutante. Nor did she garner any triple-digit Brisnet Late Pace ratings, which Not This Time did twice (107 in his maiden and 105 in the Iroquois).

Indeed, her relatively light Speed figures were the knock on her going into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). Detractors will say that Princess Noor was exposed when fifth to Vequist and Dayoutoftheoffice in the Breeders’ Cup. But in her defense, that was also her first real race, not having to learn much from beating up on lesser at home, and she had a right to train on as a 3-year-old. Princess Noor might have lent greater substance to this possibility in the Starlet, until she went wrong.

Thus Princess Noor signs off before we could really know how good she might be. And for that reason, despite their contrasts, she does echo her sire.