Royal Delta won the Eclipse Award for older fillies and mares last year despite opening her 4-year-old season by getting beat by eight lengths to Awesome Maria in the Grade III Sabin at Gulfstream Park.
Even a ninth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup couldn’t deter Royal Delta from winning the championship.
She’ll start her 5-year-old season the same way, with Sunday’s Sabin as a tuneup for the $10 million World Cup on March 30.
Trainer Bill Mott said she’s coming into her 5-year-old season even better than she did last year, though, so he expects that Royal Delta will make a better showing of herself in the Sabin. The Gulfstream Park oddsmaker can’t help but agree, and has made her the 2-5 morning-line favorite against four rivals.
“She’s stronger than last year,” Mott told the Gulfstream Park press office. “I think the campaign at 4 was easier than the campaign at 3. She beat older mares in the  Breeders’ Cup. I think she was a little tired, a little light [last year]. She’s a bigger, stronger filly this year. I think she’s grown into her frame a bit more.”
That’s certainly bad news for the rest of the division.
On paper, Royal Delta, owned by Besilu Stables, had remarkably similar seasons in 2011 and 2012, despite no longer being eligible for races restricted to her age group last year.
She made seven starts each year, with a recored of 4-2-0 at 3 and 4-1-1 at 4, with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and an Eclipse Award both years. She earned just over $2 million in 2011 and $1.657 million last year.
She was pre-entered in both the Ladies’ Classic and Classic last year, and it will be interesting to see this year if she runs against males in the Classic, like Zenyatta and Havre de Grace have in recent years.
In the meantime, the Dubai World Cup remains the primary objective, and Mott is expecting her to have a better race at Meydan this year, after she stumbled at the start in 2012.
She never got in the race and finished 81⁄2 lengths behind the winner, Monterosso.
Being even more imposing physically should help.
“I think she was the victim of a rough trip over there,” Mott said. “She went into the race well. It was just that she was a victim of bad racing luck.
“With better racing luck, I think we’d have had a better finish. I’m not saying she would’ve won. I’m just saying she would’ve had a closer finish.”
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith is flying in from California for the Sabin, and Royal Delta will break from post No. 4 in the five-horse field.
One stall inside of her will be another daughter of Empire Maker, second choice Grace Hall, who has assembled a substantial resume of her own as she begins her 4-year-old season.
Grace Hall won the Spinaway as a 2-year-old and was undefeated before finishing second to My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
She won three Grade II races as a 3-year-old last year, the Gulfstream, Delaware and Indiana Oaks, and was fifth to Questing in the Alabama.
Against older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, Grace Hall was in the back of the pack before passing some horses to finish fourth behind Royal Delta, My Miss Aurelia and Include Me Out.
“Everything has gone right on schedule for her training this winter at Palm Meadows,” trainer Tony Dutrow said. “She got back a little farther than I expected early in the Breeders’ Cup, and they kind of got away from her. I’m not sure she handled that track as much as the ones she was running on back east.”
That includes Gulfstream, where Grace Hall has run twice, winning the Gulfstream Oaks by 61⁄2 lengths over Zo Impressive and losing by just a neck to Yara in the Davona Dale.
Royal Delta has run just once at Gulfstream, her second to Awesome Maria in last year’s Sabin that kicked off her championship campaign.
HANGING IN THERE
Stonestreet Farm’s Rachel Alexandra’s condition remained serious at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital following surgery to repair a section of her small colon that was damaged while delivering her second foal on Tuesday.
One of the attending veterinarians on her case, Dr. Bonnie Barr, called her a “strong mare.”
The 2009 Horse of the Year’s vital signs remained normal, and she was brighter, more alert and demonstrating an improved attitude on Friday afternoon, according to Stonestreet, which has been supplying the public with frequent updates.
“She looks better today,” Stonestreet owner Barbara Banke said. “Rachel is a determined fighter. It makes me feel better that she was happy to have a mint. I want to thank all her fans for their incredible devotion to Rachel. Your thoughts mean so much right now.”
Rachel’s foal, a 140-pound filly by Bernardini, continues to do well and has adjusted well to her nurse mare, enjoying a paddock turnout at Stonestreet, in Lexington, Ky.
Rachel Alexandra was admitted to Rood & Riddle on Wednesday. She underwent exploratory surgery to determine the cause of excess fluid in her abdominal cavity denoting an infection. A damaged section of her small colon was repaired in a long and technically demanding procedure.
Over the long weekend for Presidents Day, there will be a graded-stakes race for 3-year-olds today, Sunday and Monday, although Sunday’s race, the Grade II San Vicente at Santa Anita, doesn’t offer any points in the new Kentucky Derby qualifying system.
In the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields today, trainer Bob Baffert has two entered, 9-5 favorite Manando and 3-1 Carving, and their top competition appears to be 5-2 Zeewat, trained by fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Manando was third behind Goldencents and Den’s Legacy in the Sham.
Carving won two listed stakes and finished out of the money in two Grade I’s in California last year.
The Pennsylvania-bred Zeewat is coming off two stakes wins at Golden Gate, in the Gold Rush Stakes and California Derby.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has two in the Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn Park on Monday, Will Take Charge and Channel Isle.
Others expected to run are Always in a Tiz, Big Lute, Brown Almighty, Fear the Kitten, Officer Alex, Super Ninety Nine and Texas Bling.
Will Take Charge beat Texas Bling by a neck in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn.
Another colt considered to have potential for the Derby trail, Capo Bastone, is entered in today’s ninth race at Gulfstream, an allowance, in his first start for trainer Todd Pletcher.
While trained by John Sadler last year, Capo Bastone finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Shanghai Bobby and He’s Had Enough.
Pletcher said that undefeated Verrazano, who won an allowance impressively at Gulfstream two weeks ago, will point toward the Tampa Bay Derby instead of the Fountain of Youth or Gotham.
Mizdirection, who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint for celebrity sports talk host Jim Rome, is entered in the Buena Vista at Santa Anita on Monday.
She opened her 2013 campaign by winning the Grade II Monrovia on Jan. 6.
The New York-bred Saginaw, who won 10 of 14 starts last year, will make his 2013 debut in the Hollie Hughes at Aqueduct on Monday.
Another horse who had a busy 2012, Nicole H, is the 8-5 favorite in the Grade II Barbara Fritchie at Laurel today. Fifth in the Grade I Ballerina last year, Nicole H won five listed stakes.
Jockey Ramon Dominguez, who fractured his skull in a spill at Aqueduct on Jan. 18, discussed his rehabilitation and desire to resume his career in an interview on Thursday with former jockey Richard Migliore, now a TV analyst for the New York Racing Association.
It was Dominguez’s second skull fracture, with the rider having suffered a similar injury in 1998.
“This was probably a little more severe,” Dominguez said. “Having said that, I wasn’t overly concerned, because the doctors, from the get-go, felt like I was going to recover well, and they were very happy with my condition even from the beginning. They said I was exceeding their expectations, and I really didn’t last too long [at the rehabilitation center].”
Dominguez said, while there is no timetable for his return, he remains eager to get back to competition.
“I feel physically capable of running a marathon, as I mentioned to one of the therapists,” he said Dominguez. “And mentally, if I’m not sharp, I don’t think it’s due to the injury; I’ve probably been this way always. So I feel pretty good, and, God-willing, I can come back to riding racehorses in a short amount of time.”
Video of the full interview can be found at NYRA’s website, www.-nyra.com, which was relaunched with a new look this week.
Jockey Calvin Borel has two mounts today, in the third and sixth races at Oaklawn Park, his first race-riding since breaking his wrist in early January.
Borel has been stuck on 4,999 career wins since last year.
He would become the 25th jockey to reach 5,000 wins.
HERE AND THERE
McMahon Thoroughbreds of Saratoga has added six stallions from the Highcliff Farm dispersale to the eight already standing at the breeding farm in Saratoga Springs, giving it the largest number of active stallion in the state.
Shipped to McMahon were Bob and John, Congaree, Cosmonaut, Maybry’s Boy, Smart Bid and Stonesider.