Two-time champion Royal Delta faces just four others in her defense of the $175,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) June 15 at Churchill Downs, a field she should easily be able to toy with even as she makes her first start off a disappointing finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (UAE-I).
The Fleur de Lis goes as race 6 on an 11-race night card, with an approximate post time of 8:30 p.m. EDT. Royal Delta is the 125-pound highweight and spots 10 or 11 pounds to her rivals. She is following the same path as in 2012, when she finished ninth in the World Cup and returned to rumble by eight lengths in the Fleur de Lis carrying 123.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott used that score to launch a campaign that resulted in Royal Delta's second Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) score in a row. She joined Bayakoa as the only runners to accomplish that feat.
This year, Royal Delta ran 10th in the March 30 World Cup over the Tapeta surface at Meydan. She won her only other start of 2013 for Besilu Stables, the Sabin Stakes (gr. III), by a handy five lengths going 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park Feb. 17. The 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker starts from outside post 5 in the 1 1/8-mile contest with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to ride.
Becky Winemiller's Wine Princess could be most dangerous of the other four, and will likely go off as the second choice. The 4-year-old chestnut daughter of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri won her 2013 debut by seven lengths on opening night at Churchill April 27. She makes her second start of the year in the Fleur de Lis.
"When you have that kind of pedigree, in the back of your mind, you always hope they can live up to it," trainer Steve Margolis said. "It doesn't always work out that way, but she's a grade III winner and grade II-placed and hopefully she can move forward."
Wine Princess won the Monmouth Oaks (gr. III) in 2012 and was runner-up to Grace Hall in the Oct. 6 Indiana Oaks (gr. II) before going to the sidelines for the rest of the year.
"We were hoping to get an easy race in her off the layoff and she won easily, which was great," Margolis said. "We really like the way she's working. (Jockey) Shaun (Bridgmohan) likes what he's feeling and I like what I'm seeing. She's coming into it as good as we could ask."
Margolis said his respect for Royal Delta abounds, but his contender is 3-for-3 at Churchill Downs and will carry 115 when she leaves post 3.
"We're getting 10 pounds from her, which is definitely a help," Margolis said. "Royal Delta is a proven champion and a serious racehorse, but we've got quality, too, and we're undefeated on the dirt here. We're looking forward to the challenge and feel our horse deserves a shot."
Also weighted at 115 is G. Watts Humphrey Jr.'s April 19 Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes (gr. III) winner Ice Cream Silence. The 4-year-old daughter of Street Sense looks to rebound from a seventh-place finish in the May 25 Arlington Matron Stakes (gr. III) for trainer Rusty Arnold.
Coming in at 114 are allowance winner Funny Proposition, a Medaglia d'Oro 4-year-old owned by John Oxley and trained by Mark Casse, and 2012 grade III winner She's All In for Robert H. Zoellner and trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel.
$175,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II, Race 6, approximate post 8:30 p.m. EDT), fillies & mares 3YOs & Up, 1 1/8 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Funny Proposition (KY), J Rosario, 114, M E Casse
2. Ice Cream Silence (KY), R Napravnik, 115, G R Arnold, II
3. Wine Princess (KY), S Bridgmohan, 115, S Margolis
4. She's All In (OK), R Santana Jr, 114, D K Von Hemel