Besilu Stables' Royal Delta held off a late challenger to win the $750,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. II) by a neck at Delaware Park July 21, but it wasn't the nemesis everyone thought she'd face near the wire.
Awesome Maria, who beat the champion 3-year-old filly of 2011 in the Sabin Stakes earlier this year, gave way in the drive after 1-2 favorite Royal Delta cruised to the lead as expected coming off the turn in the 1 1/4-mile test. But there was 28-1 shot Tiz Miz Sue closing from fifth to reach the hip of the 1-2 favorite, then looming at her girth on the outside, looking like she might even head Royal Delta as they hurtled on down to the line (VIDEO).
It took some stiff left-handed urging from Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, but Royal Delta hung on fully extended to get the victory. Highweight in the field under 124 pounds, she was carrying nine more than the second-place finisher. Awesome Maria, coming off a May 28 third in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park for trainer Todd Pletcher, finished in the show spot.
"She proved to be the best," winning trainer Bill Mott said of Royal Delta. "She was game in victory. She did a lot of work around the turn and early in the stretch. She made the lead a little early, but she got it done."
Royal Delta automatically qualified for the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park—a race she won when it was held at Churchill Downs last year—with her score in the Delaware Handicap, a "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge event. Bred in Kentucky by Palides Investments out of the A.P. Indy mare Delta Princess, she improved her record to 7-2-1 from 12 starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, with earnings of $2,263,851.
The early going of the Del 'Cap was led by Love and Pride, who set a fast early pace of :22.87 and :45.70. The 29-1 shot opened a four-length lead while chased by Cash for Clunkers and Awesome Maria, who was sent up the inside after breaking awkwardly. Royal Delta was well-placed in fourth from the one hole and moved to second by the half, then was sent after the leader in tandem with Awesome Maria and jockey Ramon Dominguez through three-quarters in a sharp 1:09.80.
"The race set up a lot different then I was expecting," Dominguez remarked. "For one thing I was expecting Cash for Clunkers to go early. I was fine with that but I was surprised to see the winner taking the lead. It really left me with a tough decision. It just did not set up at all for us. I was happy we finished third, but the race did not set up at all the way I envisioned the race."
Royal Delta powered three-wide off the turn and took command by a half-length for a mile in 1:36.02 while commencing her long drive for home. The 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker held off Tiz Miz Sue and jockey Joe Rocco Jr. in a final time of 2:03.51.
"She was the horse I was worried about," Smith said of the Steve Hobby-trained Tiz Miz Sue, runner-up to Love and Pride in the Obeah Stakes (gr. III) last time out June 16. The 5-year-old daughter of Tiznow brought a Delaware Park record of four wins and two seconds from eight starts into the Delaware Handicap.
"Not only is she talented, she was on her home course," Smith remarked. "She got to me, but my mare just wasn't going to let her by. She just kept digging in."
"My mare ran huge and she tried hard, but we could not get there," Rocco said. "She was really, really game... you can't take anything away from her. My horse was trying as hard as she could, and she just couldn't get by her."
Royal Delta returned $3, $2.40, and $2.10 while Tiz Miz Sue paid $9.80 and $3.60 and Awesome Maria brought $2.10. Love and Pride, Daring Reality, Pachattack, and Cash for Clunkers completed the order of finish.