Besilu Stables' Royal Delta dropped her initial two starts of 2012 but on Saturday returned to the form that saw her earn an Eclipse Award as champion three-year-old filly last year when drawing off under a hand ride to score by eight lengths in the Grade 2, $179,700 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Sent off the 3-5 favorite against her five opponents, the four-year-old daughter of Empire Maker tracked in third as Sterling Madame set opening fractions of :23 3/5, :47 3/5 and 1:12. Jockey Mike Smith, who was taking over from regular rider Jose Lezcano, hit the button nearing the turn and Royal Delta shot forward to draw even, and then off, rounding the turn.
The dark bay mare quickly opened up in the stretch and Smith began wrapping with a furlong to go, allowing his mount to still finish up 1 1/8 miles on the fast dirt in 1:49 2/5.
Royal Delta gave back $3.20, $2.60 and $2.10 to her many supporters. Afleeting Lady tracked in second throughout and maintained that spot under the wire, 4 1/4 lengths clear of 3-1 second choice St. John's River. Sterling Madame followed by another 6 1/2 lengths while It's Tea Time and trailer Distorted Love completed the order of finish.
Royal Delta broke her maiden by 12 lengths at Belmont Park as a juvenile, but didn't begin her three-year-old season until mid-March when she offered no run to be ninth in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Trainer Bill Mott brought her back a month later at Keeneland, and the filly got back to her winning ways with a three-length score against allowance rivals.
Royal Delta captured her first stakes win when taking the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico and was given a brief break before returning to be third in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. The Kentucky-bred miss vindicated that loss when dominating the Grade 1 Alabama by 5 1/2 lengths, but was no match for eventual Horse of the Year Havre de Grace next out in the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational, running second in that contest. She closed out her three-year-old campaign with an easy 2 1/2-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, clinching champion three-year-old filly honors in the process.
Mott saddled his charge in the Grade 3 Sabin to start 2012, but Royal Delta could only manage second in that race. She then flew to Dubai for the Group 1 Dubai World Cup against the boys at Meydan and suffered just her second off-the-board placing when ninth in that synthetic affair. Given plenty of time to recover from her trans-Atlantic trip, the dark bay miss easily captured this one to boost her career earnings to $1,824,900 and improve her mark to 11-6-2-1.
Royal Delta was campaigned by her breeder, Palides Investments N.V. Inc., through her Breeders' Cup triumph then passed through the sales rings for the first time just three days after that score. She sold for a sale-topping $8.5 million at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale to Benjamin Leon's Besilu Stables, which was the most ever paid for a horse in training at Keeneland November and the most paid for any horse at the sale since broodmare Playful Act brought $10.5 million in 2007. The previous Keeneland record for a horse in training was the $6.1 million paid by Aaron Jones for the graded stakes-winning colt Half Ours in 2006.
Royal Delta is descended from a black-type rich family as a daughter of the A.P. Indy mare Delta Princess. That one would capture six stakes, including three Grade 3 contests, during her time on track while racking up nearly $750,000 in earnings. Royal Delta's second dam is Group 2 victress Lyphard's Delta, who would go on in the breeding shed to produce Grade/Group 1 winners Biondetti and Indy Five Hundred.
Lyphard's Delta is herself a daughter of Proud Delta, who was honored as champion handicap mare in 1976, and counts as a full brother Grade 3 hero and sire Proud Debonair.
Royal Delta has a three-year-old full brother named Empire Way who ran second to eventual Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis in early February.