She didn’t look like a champion at Saratoga Race Course last year.
She has looked like one pretty much the rest of the time.
Royal Delta will make her return to Saratoga on Sunday in the Grade I Personal Ensign at a mile and an eighth on the main track.
The question still hangs over her connections whether she’ll return to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, which she has won during the last two seasons to clinch a pair of Eclipse Awards, or take a swing against males in the Classic.
In the meantime, she is trying to build some momentum at a track where she has won the Alabama two years ago, but lost to long shot Love and Pride in the Personal
Ensign last year.
“She’s bigger, stronger, more mature, and she stayed together and seems very healthy, so I’m hoping that the last race is an indication of good things to come,” trainer Bill Mott said during a national teleconference on Tuesday. “Hopefully, she can maintain that form throughout the end of the year.”
Royal Delta is the 2-5 morning-line favorite and will break from post No. 2 in a five-horse field that includes Shuvee winner Authenticity.
Owned by Besilu Stables, the daughter of Empire Maker went to the Dubai World Cup for the second year in a row in March, and wasn’t a factor for the second year in a row.
She returned to finish second to Funny Proposition by five lengths in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs, but rebounded from that with a performance more typical of her resume.
Jockey Mike Smith, who has ridden Royal Delta in her last nine starts going back to the 2012 Fleur de Lis, guided her to the front in the Grade I Delaware Handicap on
July 20, and she toyed with four rivals to win by 103⁄4 lengths.
“We were obviously very disappointed in the Kentucky race, and a little confused by it,” Mott said. “We did take her off of Lasix
after that. I just felt like it probably wasn’t doing her any favors, and it seemed like maybe it was working against us a little bit. She’ll run without Lasix when she runs in the Personal Ensign.”
The 5-year-old Royal Delta is 11-4-1 from 19 career starts for over $4.25 million in earnings.
She’s a candidate for Horse of the Year, but there are plenty of important races to decide that between now and the end of the year.
Smith gave up the mount on another Horse of the Year candidate, Game On Dude, in Sunday’s Pacific Classic to ride Palace Malice in the Travers and Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign.
“I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision, and I hope, for everybody’s sake, and in particular Mike, it works out for him,” Mott said. “I hope she comes back and runs a good race and can get the job done, and that’ll justify his decision.”
Royal Delta was nominated to the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, but Besilu and Mott opted for the Ladies’ Classic, which has been renamed the Distaff.
She beat My Miss Aurelia by a length and a half to lock up the older female Eclipse Award.
Mott said she’d be nominated to both the Classic and Distaff again.
“We talked about that last year, and then coming into this year, we spoke about it, but that would be really something that would have to be determined, probably the week leading up to the race,” he said.
“I would certainly say that she’s been very consistent and very
durable. I think anytime that you’re a two-time Eclipse champion and have won two Breeders’ Cups, I’d say that’s a lot about any horse. But as far as the actual class that you can see in her when you’re around her, it drips off of her. Just to look at her and watch her and watch her train, she’s very special.”
Authenticity, lightly raced for a 6-year-old, will be trying Grade I competition for the second time in 10 career starts.
She was second by a half-length to Tiz Miz Sue in the Ogden Phipps in May.
Coincidentally, Tiz Miz Sue, third in the 2011 Personal Ensign and fourth last year, was retired on Friday.
“Her overall appearance, her coat and everything, she looks like she’s really just in peak form,” trainer Todd Pletcher said of Authenticity. “She certainly needs to be to run in this type of race against a mare the quality of Royal Delta.
“We’re pleased that Authenticity is as good as she can be, and we’ll see what happens on race day. Having a race over the track, I think, helps, and a mile and an eighth is certainly perfect for her. We’ll hope for a little racing luck and see what happens.”