With Royal Delta turning for home, all anyone could do was watch.
In the stands, they were already on their feet applauding. Behind the 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, they were on their feet, but the sound wasn’t from clapping hands. It was the furious beat of hooves working for second place.
Royal Delta began wide of and a half-length behind On Fire Baby, who broke from the rail and went out to challenge the favorite early in the 1 1⁄8-mile Grade I $600,000 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares 3 and older. Early on the backstretch, Royal Delta moved ahead of On Fire Baby by a couple of lengths, then moved in toward the rail entering the far turn to leave her behind.
Authenticity and jockey John Velazquez had followed Royal Delta around On Fire Baby and then followed her into the turn. For a moment, Velazquez was hopeful of reaching the wire first.
“I got a little bit excited at the five-sixteenths pole when we were getting closer,” he said. “I thought we had a chance. Then at the quarter pole, Royal Delta reached in and got away again. We were just second best.”
Royal Delta hit the stretch with a lead of 4 1⁄2 lengths, then went on to finish with the same margin between her and Authenticity. Another 13⁄4 lengths back was Centring and jockey Javier Castellano. On Fire Baby faded to fourth, and Open Water was fifth.
Running for the second consecutive race off Lasix, Royal Delta won her fourth straight Grade I. She won the Delaware Handicap her last time out, took the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last November, and the Beldame at Belmont last September. Prior to that, she was second in last year’s Personal Ensign, a half-length behind Love and Pride.
“Everything went wrong, didn’t it, last year?” winning jockey Mike Smith said. “She got really, really hot. I don’t think I rode her really that well last year. I was just getting to know her, and I didn’t let her use that big stride that she has early. I should have been, because I think I would have won that one. But you live and learn, and we’re learning about each other every day, and it’s getting better and better.”
Smith said the key to the race was just to keep running.
“Her stride does it,” he said. “It really does. It just opens up. It’s amazing.
“I just have to stay on and get out of the gate.”
The pace was quick early, but it didn’t cost Royal Delta down the stretch.
“You know what? Who’s going to go with her?” said winning trainer Bill Mott. “We lapped up on On Fire Baby, and he backed off us. I guess he could see we were going to go. She’s just got a big, beautiful stride, and it’s hard for some of them to keep up.”
He said the Beldame on Sept. 28 is a likely next start for Royal Delta.
She returned $3.10, $2.10 and $2.10. Authenticity paid $2.40 and $2.10, while Centring paid $2.80 to show.
Todd Pletcher saddled Authenticity, and said he was not disappointed to finish second, considering the race Royal Delta ran.
“I thought our filly ran super,” he said. “We were just second best. I’m really pleased with her effort. She didn’t lose any respect in defeat.”
Castellano liked the late kick from Centring, who ran the first three-quarter miles last of five horses, trailing the leader by 15 1⁄2 lengths. At the wire, she was 6 1⁄4 back.
“I had a good trip,” Castellano said. “My filly really closed today. I really liked the way she did it in the last part of the race. She closed and almost got second place in a Grade I behind Royal Delta.”
“A good effort,” Centring trainer Tom Albertrani said. “Grade I placing, that’s the most important thing. She kind of lost contact early on, but she made up some good ground, so it was a good effort.”
There really was only one
moment when the remotest of chances opened up for the field behind Royal Delta. It came at that moment the crowd stood up, ready to hand her the win, since she was already so sure to reach out and grab the wire.
As Royal Delta ran lonely through the furlong grounds, there was nobody around to distract her from the tracks she and the four horses behind her had left when leaving the gate on their first time down the frontstretch. Smith had a few seconds more of work to do, motivating the big girl to not slow down.
“Once we [broke cleanly] and she got into her monster stride, horses have to take two [steps] to her one, it seems like. She’s a machine,” Smith said. “Down the lane, she got to looking around at the tracks a little bit, so I got after her just a little to keep her going. She’s really big, so you hate for her to gear too much down and have someone come running, and it’s hard to get going again. Other than that, everything was wonderful.”