Last year at Saratoga Race Course, Royal Delta bolstered her Eclipse Award credentials with a 5 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 Alabama, and she later sewed up champion three-year-old filly honors with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.
On Sunday, Royal Delta will make her first start at Saratoga since the Alabama when she carries highweight of 124 pounds in the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign Invitational Handicap going nine furlongs.
"We're happy to give (Royal Delta) another chance back in Saratoga, where she won the Alabama," Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. "She seems to be doing fine here and we hope she repeats from a year ago."
The Personal Ensign, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" race for the Ladies' Classic, could serve as the fourth meeting between Royal Delta and It's Tricky, and the first match between the two in 2012. In 2011, Royal Delta was third to It's Tricky in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. Royal Delta defeated It's Tricky in both the Alabama and the Ladies' Classic.
After Royal Delta won the Ladies' Classic, Benjamin Leon of Besilu Stables purchased the daughter of Empire Maker for $8.5 million at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. In her Besilu debut, the dark bay miss chased Awesome Maria to finish a distant second in the Grade 3 Sabin in February at Gulfstream Park, then was one-paced when ninth against males in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in March.
The intercontinental sojourn seemed to take nothing out of the four-year-old, who blitzed her opponents by eight lengths in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis in June at Churchill Downs. Royal Delta had to work harder in her most recent start, moving into a fast pace set by Love and Pride and then staving off a late challenge from Tiz Miz Sue to win the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap by a neck on July 21. Both Tiz Miz Sue and Love and Pride have been entered back in the Personal Ensign.
"She had to work at it (in the Del 'Cap), without a doubt," Mott remarked. "She had to work early and hang on late. With the difference in weight (nine pounds) she gave to the second horse, she ran quite well. She's doing well and she's proven in the past she can run well over this racetrack. She's highweight, and I suppose she deserves to be."
Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith has the assignment aboard Royal Delta, the 4-5 morning-line favorite, from post position 4.
It's Tricky is cross-entered to Friday's Grade 1 Ballerina going seven furlongs, and as of Thursday trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and owner Godolphin Racing had not made a final decision on whether the Mineshaft filly would compete in that race or the Personal Ensign. The trainer said Thursday the Personal Ensign remained the more likely spot, but added that he needed to discuss the matter with Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford.
Made the 2-1 morning-line second choice for the Personal Ensign, It's Tricky is unbeaten in three starts this year, opening her four-year-old season with a pair of wins at Aqueduct in which she defeated Love and Pride by 2 3/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap in March and then recorded a 3 1/2-length score while cutting back in distance for the Grade 2 Distaff Handicap in April.
The bay lass is unraced since she took the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap by three-quarters of a length on May 28 at Belmont Park, but has trained steadily at Belmont and the Greentree Training Center adjacent to Saratoga since that race.
"We have her coming back at 1 1/8 miles, and she hasn't raced in three months," McLaughlin noted. "Hopefully we'll have her tight enough. She's training well and is coming into the race in great shape. We're ready to go."
It's Tricky, who usually stalks the pace, drew post position 1, directly inside front runners Brushed by a Star and Love and Pride.
"We might have a slight pace edge over Royal Delta," McLaughlin said. "Being that we're in the one hole, we'll be forwardly placed. There will probably be one or two outside who will go out and clear us. We'll see if they can. We'll let (jockey) Eddie (Castro) sort it out."
Despite the formidable presence of Royal Delta and It's Tricky, McLaughlin did not want to concede the Personal Ensign to the favorites as it also drew Tiz Miz Sue and Love and Pride, second and fourth in the Delaware Handicap; and Brushed by a Star and R Gypsy Gold, first and third in the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher.
"(Royal Delta and It's Tricky are) the two most accomplished runners in the field, but there are some other nice fillies in there," he affirmed.
Tiz Miz Sue seeks her first win since a three-length decision in the Grade 3 Azeri in March at Oaklawn Park. Since that race, she has finished third in Oaklawn's Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap in April and second in both the Grade 3 Obeah in June and the Del 'Cap at Delaware Park. In the latter event, Tiz Miz Sue raced in fifth through six furlongs, came to Royal Delta's flank in the stretch, but could get no closer than a neck to the eventual winner.
"She ran a huge race; that's all there is to it," trainer Steve Hobby praised Tiz Miz Sue's performance. "She was training well, and we got nine pounds from (Royal Delta in the Delaware Handicap)."
The spread will remain nine pounds as Tiz Miz Sue was assigned 115 for the Personal Ensign. The five-year-old daughter of Tiznow, who third in this race last year, will leave from post 6 with Joseph Rocco Jr. aboard at 6-1 on the morning-line.
Love and Pride led at every call to defeat Tiz Miz Sue by 1 3/4 lengths in the Obeah but faded to fourth after cutting blazing fractions of :45 3/5 and 1:09 4/5 in the Del 'Cap. Trainer Todd Pletcher hopes Love and Pride, who will have the blinkers taken off for the Personal Ensign, will ration her speed better on Sunday.
"We're definitely not going to do that again," Pletcher said of the fast pace Love and Pride set last time. "It's a tall order, but she has run well here in the past. We're taking a shot. She's doing very well at the moment. Who knows what might happen at Saratoga."
Love and Pride's only prior start at Saratoga resulted in a 6 3/4-length triumph Proud Spell Stakes last August. John Velazquez takes over riding duties aboard the A.P. Indy four-year-old filly, who drew post 3 and was assigned 114 pounds.
Brushed by a Star also figures to be prominent early, having employed front-running tactics to win her past three starts, including an 11-length victory in the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows in June and a 1 1/2-length score in the Molly Pitcher on July 29 at Monmouth Park.
"Other horses may be quicker from the gate, but she comes out of the turn and is on top," trainer Grant Forster stated.
"Hopefully, she can continue to keep going up, up, up," he added. "We're going way up this time. She always hinted at being a lot better. She's obviously trained strong and her confidence is sky-high."
The four-year-old daughter of Eddington will tote 118 pounds, including Corey Nakatani, from post 2 at 15-1 on the morning-line.
R Gypsy Gold, also trained by Pletcher, won the second stakes of her career when she landed the Endear overnight stakes on July 4 at Belmont Park, her final start prior to the Molly Pitcher, in which she rallied on the rail to finish third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths.
"We'll let her settle and make one run," Pletcher said of the Bernardini filly. "We hope she'll keep coming. Her last couple of races have been very good. She ran a sneaky-good race in the Molly Pitcher and was probably stuck on the worst part of the racetrack."
Javier Castellano will ride R Gypsy Gold, 15-1 and assigned 115 pounds, from post 5.
Also on Sunday, seven New York-breds have been entered in the $100,000 Clever Electrician Stakes. The seven-furlong contest drew Fiddlers Afleet, a 7 1/4-length winner of the Chasin' Wimmin' Stakes at Belmont on July 6, as well as multiple stakes victors Be Bullish and Mine Over Matter, the respective second and third from the John Morrissey Stakes earlier this month at the Spa.