by Alan Porter
The news was disappointing last November when it was announced that Empire Maker—the leading third-crop sire of 2009—was departing for Japan. He was a horse that we utilized in 2010 and had already incorporated in several mating plans for 2011. One thing we especially liked about him was that he was emerging as an excellent option for Seattle Slew-line mares, in particular through A.P. Indy.
The feeling that Empire Maker was a significant loss for U.S. breeders, and that he was an excellent cross for A.P. Indy, was reinforced again August 20 when Empire Maker’s daughter Royal Delta foiled the New York filly Triple Tiara bid of It's Tricky with a 5½-length victory in the TVG Alabama Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO). The Alabama was only the sixth start for Royal Delta, and only her second foray into grade I competition. She started just once last year, immediately drawing attention to herself with a 12-length victory in a one-mile maiden at Belmont Park in October. She was off the board in her 2011 debut, failing to fire in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in March. A month later, she rebounded to take an allowance race on the all-weather at Keeneland, scoring by three lengths. Making her graded stakes debut in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II), Royal Delta tallied by 2½ lengths from subsequent grade I winner Buster's Ready. Royal Delta’s only other outing came in the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) where she finished third to Alabama runner-up It’s Tricky, with Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) victress Plum Pretty in second.
When a stallion at Empire Maker’s level is exported relatively early in his career, it’s generally because at some level, expectations have not been met. For Empire Maker, the expectations were higher than most. He was an outstanding racehorse, almost certainly the best of his sophomore crop—he defeated eventual 3-year-old champion Funny Cide in the Wood Memorial and Belmont Stakes (both gr. I), but was beaten into second by that horse in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) after a bruised foot caused him to miss two gallops in the week of the race. In addition, his pedigree is beyond reproach. By champion and classic winner Unbridled—whose son Unbridled’s Song was already one of the hottest commercial stallions in Kentucky at the time of Empire Maker’s retirement—Empire Maker is out of “super producer” Toussaud. A daughter of El Gran Senor, Toussaud was not only a grade I winner in her own right, but in addition to Empire Maker, she is also the dam of grade I winners Honest Lady, Chester House (a very promising sire who died after siring only three crops), and Chiselling, and graded stakes winner Decarchy. She is also granddam of the Forego Handicap (gr. I) victor First Defence, a son of Unbridled's Song out of Honest Lady, who stands at Empire Maker’s former home, Juddmonte Farms .
Considering that his performance and pedigree suggested that his offspring would improve with age, Empire Maker made a bright start with his first juveniles: Country Star—an Eclipse award nominee—took both the Darley Alcibiades Stakes and Hollywood Starlet Stakes (both gr. I); Mushka captured the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II); and the speedy Miss Red Delicious won the Anna M. Fisher Debutante Stakes, bringing his total of first-crop 2-year-old black-type winners to three. Ultimately that crop would yield 10 stakes winners, with Country Star being joined as a winner at the highest level by Acoma, a filly to whom all surfaces came alike, and winner of seven graded stakes, including the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I); Mushka, who also captured the Spinster; and Icon Project, successful in the Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I). That crop also included the lightly-raced Battle Plan, who captured the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II), and went down by just ½ length to Blame in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), despite suffering a career-ending injury in the course of the race.
There were seven more stakes winners in Empire Maker’s second crop, headed by Pioneerof the Nile , winner of four graded stakes, including the Cashcall Futurity and Santa Anita Derby (both gr. I) and second in the Kentucky Derby, and group/graded scorers Country Flavor and Charity Belle.
The third crop by Empire Maker are 4-year-olds of 2011, and so far that crop has produced five stakes winners, including Acting Happy, winner of last year’s Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) and also third in the grade I CCA Oaks and Alabama Stakes, and the Hal’s Hope Stakes (gr. III) winner Soaring Empire . To date, Royal Delta is the first stakes winner from Empire Maker’s fourth crop.
Royal Delta was bred by her owner, Palides Investments, the nom de course of the late Prince Saud bin Khaled, who passed this February. She is out of the A.P. Indy mare Delta Princess, a winner of 11 races from 2 to 6, including the Locust Grove Handicap, Beaugay Handicap, and Early Times Mint Julip Handicap (all gr. IIIT). Royal Delta is a sister to the Garden City Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. IT) heroine Indy Five Hundred, and a similarly-bred half sister to Biondetti (by A.P. Indy’s son Bernardini), winner of the Gran Criterium (Ity-I) last year. The granddam, Lyphard’s Delta—as her name suggests, a daughter of Lyphard—won the Vodafone Nassau Stakes (Eng-II) and was a sister to the Grey Lag Handicap (gr. III) victor Proud Debonair. The third dam, Proud Delta, won a minor stakes at 3 but blossomed at 4 when she was successful in six black-type events, including the Top Flight Handicap and Beldame Stakes (both gr. I), earning honors as champion handicap mare in one year-end poll.
We mentioned that one reason we found Empire Maker particularly useful was that he was beginning to show a strong affinity for A.P. Indy. He’s had only nine starters out of mares by A.P. Indy, and three of those—Royal Delta, Soaring Empire and Charity Belle—are graded stakes winners, while two others are stakes-placed. He’s also sired stakes winner Clear Sailing from three starters out of mares by sons of A.P. Indy, while grade I winner Country Star is from a daughter of Seattle Slew’s son Metfield. This affinity was foreshadowed by the talent demonstrated by Honest Lady, the Seattle Slew half sister to Empire Maker. The combination of Seattle Slew and Toussaud—dam of Honest Lady and Empire Maker—brings together two individuals with inbreeding to relatives from the La Troienne family. My Charmer, the dam of Seattle Slew, has the sisters Striking and Busher (both by War Admiral out of La Troienne’s daughter Baby League) 3x3, and El Gran Senor, the sire of Toussaud, is out of Sex Appeal, a mare who has the closely-related, Busanda (again by War Admiral out of a daughter of La Troienne) and Mr. Busher (brother to Busher and Striking in Seattle Slew’s pedigree) 2x3. For good measure, A.P. Indy brings in another cross of La Troienne, as his granddam is by Sex Appeal’s sire, Buckpasser.