Not insusceptible although brilliant, Royal Delta missed victory in the 1 1/8-mile Personal Ensign of 2012 by half a length to 10-1 shot Love and Pride before going on to win the Beldame Invitational (gr. I) and a second straight Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I). She carried 124 pounds, a highweight impost she will shoulder once again this season under regular rider Mike Smith. Love and Pride carried 114.
Royal Delta and Smith come off a second straight Delaware Handicap (gr. I) victory to claim 2-5 favoritism on the morning line. On July 20, the 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker schooled four other starters with a 10 3/4-length score in the 1 1/4-mile event for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. She drew post 2 in this year's Personal Ensign renewal; last year she left post 4.
"I'm hoping the last race is an indication of good things to come," Mott said of Royal Delta, who has earned more than $4.2 million. "Hopefully she can maintain her form through the end of the year."
While Royal Delta has lost at Saratoga more than she has won, she did take the 2011 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) by 5 1/2 lengths after running third in the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I).
Taken off Lasix for the Delaware Handicap after a runner-up finish in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, the imposing bay mare will race without it once again. She ran wide throughout in the Fleur de Lis to finish second, beaten five lengths as the 3-10 favorite, to longshot Funny Proposition.
"Obviously we were disappointed in the Kentucky race, and a little confused by it," said Mott. "We did take her off Lasix after that, and she'll run without Lasix again."
Although Love and Pride hasn't raced since a fifth-place finish in the Ladies' Classic, trainer Todd Pletcher still has a contender to oppose the champ—84 Lumber Shuvee Stakes (gr. III) winner Authenticity. Padua Stables' 6-year-old daughter of Quiet American was entered in the Delaware Handicap but diverted to the Shuvee at Saratoga on the same day instead.
Prior to that she earned a career high 103 Beyer Speed Figure for her second-place finish to Tiz Miz Sue in the May 27 Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park, and a 102 for her victory in the La Troienne (gr. II) at Churchill by a determined head over On Fire Baby.
"I feel like she's doing better coming into this race than the last one, and I thought she was doing well going into that one," Pletcher said. "Particularly her last two breezes (:49.65 on Aug. 19 and 1:01.92 on Aug. 12) were exceptional, and I just feel like...she looks like she's really in peak form.
"She certainly needs to be to run in this type of race against a mare the quality of Royal Delta. We're pleased that Authenticity is as good as she can be, and we'll see what happens on race day. Having a race over the track, I think, helps, and a mile and an eighth is certainly perfect for her. We'll hope for a little racing luck and see what happens."
Anita Cauley's homebred On Fire Baby comes back after a freshening, having not started for trainer Gary Hartlage since the La Troienne. One start earlier she won the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park, achieving that victory with a wire-to-wire score. She has been known to stalk the pace as well, as she did for her Honeybee Stakes (gr. III) victory in March 2012. The 4-year-old Smoke Glacken filly won the Pocahontas (gr. II) and Golden Rod (gr. I) as a juvenile at Churchill. She carries 118 under Joe Johnson from the rail and is 5-1 on the morning line.
Taking another ambitious swing at Royal Delta is Darley Stable's Centring, a 5-year-old A.P. Indy mare trained by Tom Albertrani who broke her maiden at Saratoga last year. Fourth last time out in the Delaware Handicap and third in the Ogden Phipps, she is still seeking her first stakes score and will carry lightest weight of the group, 114 pounds. Javier Castellano rides from post 4.
"I don't really believe she liked the track at Delaware," Albertrani said. "She ran way below expectations. She ran well over this track last year. I can see she is training a little sharper coming into this weekend, so I feel pretty good about her. Even if we just hit the frame, we're going to be happy. If Royal Delta stubs a toe or something, we're going to be there, but we're going to do our best just to be in the frame, hopefully."
Open Water, who races for trainer Eric Guillot and Southern Equine Stable, M. Smith, and Whispering Oaks Farm, completes the field. The 4-year-old daughter of Include won the Marjorie L. Everett Handicap (gr. II) at Betfair Hollywood Park in May and placed in the Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) and San Clemente Handicap (gr. II) last year, but after running fifth in the Vanity Handicap (gr. I) on June 15, has failed to transfer her Southern California form thus far. In two starts at Saratoga, she was sixth in a July 22 optional claimer and eighth in the Aug. 3 De La Rose Stakes.
The Personal Ensign is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race for the Distaff division.