Few want anything to do with Besilu Stable's 5-year-old champion Royal Delta as she preps for a start in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) with a Feb. 17 run in the $100,000 Sabin Stakes (gr. III).
Only four older fillies and mares, led by multiple graded stakes winner Grace Hall, will try the two-time Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) winner when she races for the first time in 2013 at Gulfstream Park.
Last year, Royal Delta began her campaign with a distant second to Awesome Maria beaten eight lengths in the Sabin, giving rivals cause to believe they may find her most vulnerable in this year's edition of the 1 1/16-mile test. But Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said racing fans shouldn't count on history repeating itself. The daughter of Empire Maker came out of her 2012 wire-to-wire Breeders' Cup score a bigger, stronger filly.
"I think the campaign at 4 was easier than the campaign at 3," Mott remarked. "She beat older mares in the (2011) Breeders' Cup. I think she was a little tired, a little light (last year). She's a bigger, stronger filly this year. I think she's grown into her frame a bit more."
Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith will fly in from California for the mount on Royal Delta, who leaves post 4 carrying high weight of 123 pounds.
The early season program is the same for Royal Delta as it was early last year, although her connections will hope for a better result in the Dubai World Cup, in which she finished a disappointing ninth after a rough trip against an international group of male stars. Royal Delta stumbled at the start of the 1 1/4-mile World Cup over the synthetic surface at Meydan and was never a factor while finishing 8 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
"I think she was a victim of a rough trip over there," Mott said. "She went into the race well. It was just that she was a victim of bad racing luck. With better racing luck, I think we'd have had a better finish."
Leading those willing to test Royal Delta in the Sabin, which has a scheduled post time of 5:05 p.m. EST, is 4-year-old Grace Hall from the barn of Tony Dutrow. Racing for Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and the Elkstone Group, she finished fourth behind Royal Delta in the Nov. 2 Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita Park last out.
Also a daughter of Empire Maker, Grace Hall ranked among the nation's top 3-year-old fillies last year. She won the Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II), finished third in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), and then captured the Delaware Oaks (gr. II) and Indiana Oaks (gr. II) before finishing nine lengths behind Royal Delta in the Ladies' Classic.
"Everything has gone right on schedule for her training this winter at Palm Meadows," Dutrow said. "She got back a little farther than I expected early in the Breeders' Cup and they kind of got away from her. I'm not sure she handled that track as much as the ones she was running on back east."
Jockey Joel Rosario gets the call on Grace Hall from post 3. She'll carry 121 pounds.
Only three other fillies and mares will line up against Royal Delta, including Team Block's 5-year-old All for Thee who enters off a game allowance win over the track going a mile on Jan. 12 in her first start since Keeneland in October. Jockey Jose Lezcano will be aboard the daughter of Elusive Quality for trainer Chris Block.
Tony's Investments' 5-year-old My Pal Chrisy comes into the race after a pair of third-place finishes in restricted stakes at the meet: the Ocala Dec. 30 and Sunshine Millions Distaff Jan. 19. A daughter of Alex's Pal, My Pal Chrisy has had most of her success at Calder Casino & Race Course the last few seasons with total earnings of $415,000, including a 7 1/4-length victory in the Elmer Heubeck Distaff in November. Jockey J.L. Castanon has the mount for owner-trainer Padarath Lutchman.
Completing the field is Frank Mancari and Pat Greco's 5-year-old mare One Last Dance with Javier Castellano picking up the mount for trainer Dale Romans. The daughter of Officer is cross-entered in the Feb. 16 Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
$100,000 Sabin Stakes (gr. III, Race 10, 5:05 p.m. EST), fillies and mares 4YOs & Up, 1 1/16 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. One Last Dance (KY), J. Castellano, 117, D L Romans
2. All for Thee (KY), J. Lezcano, 117, C M Block
3. Grace Hall (KY), J. Rosario, 121, A W Dutrow
4. Royal Delta (KY), M.E. Smith, 123, W I Mott
5. My Pal Chrisy (FL), J.L. Castanon, 119, P Lutchman