Royal Delta and Close Hatches, major contenders in the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I), stretched their legs at Santa Anita Park Oct. 29 after arriving in California from New York the day before. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott oversaw the pair on his pony and said they have settled in well.
The two traveled uneventfully from the East, unlike Royal Delta's trip in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy caused her to take a circuitous route to Santa Anita.Royal Delta cut a leg when backed into the stall on the plane last year and required stitches.
"Last year was kind of a little different situation when she almost sliced her leg off coming here," Mott said. "There were some very tense moments over that, when it happened and the whole time leading into the race."
Besilu Stables' Royal Delta will be attempting her third consecutive Distaff, having won it in 2011 at Churchill Downs and in 2012 at Santa Anita. Each of the three years she prepped in the Beldame Invitational (gr. I) at Belmont Park, finishing second two years ago, winning last year, and running second to 3-year-old Princess of Sylmar this season.
Though Mott refused to make any excuses for Royal Delta's recent Beldame loss, when asked about his training up to the race, he noted that he had changed her routine a bit.
"Before the Beldame, we'd slowed her down," Mott said. "I thought I probably would have enough in her to get the job done anyway, and it wasn't the case. You know, horses don't always seem to run their A-plus race back to back to back."
After the Beldame, Mott began putting faster works into Royal Delta.
"It seems like when she works a little faster and we let her train a little faster, she runs pretty well," he said. "So I'm hoping that's what the result is."
Mott said he put some weight back on the 5-year-old daugher of Empire Maker for the Beldame and that she has trained well since.
"We let her breeze the way she wanted to rather than cramp her up," he said.
Rodolphe Brisset, one of Mott's assistants, breezed both Royal Delta and Close Hatches a half-mile at Belmont Oct. 26 in their final works prior to shipping to Santa Anita. Royal Delta went in :46.52 and Close Hatches went in :46.71, the two fastest times of the morning at the distance.
"I pretty much breezed them both the same," said Brisset. "Royal Delta was a tick faster because that's the way she breezes. But they pretty much galloped out the same."
Close Hatches, a 3-year-old daugher of First Defence owned by Juddmonte Farms, deserves her chance in the Distaff, Mott said. She most recently won the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) and Cotillion Stakes (gr. I).
"She's run very well, and I'm very happy with her, especially for a filly who never got her first race until January," said Mott. "We were planning to run her in November of her 2-year-old year, but she got a little fever at Churchill Downs.
"I don't particularly like running against myself. But if you're in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) or Breeders' Cup, situations arise and you just have to do it. Both deserve to run and have their chances, and whatever happens happens."
Close Hatches and Royal Delta drew post positions 3 and 4 in the 1 1/8-mile Distaff, while Richard Mandella-trained Beholder, who often sets the pace in her races, drew the 5.
"The draw was okay," said Mott. "I suppose Mandella's happy with his post position, being on the outside. If I could have switched it around and traded, that would have been fine. But it is what it is."
Royal Delta set the pace in winning the race last year under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who will be riding her again. In some of her earlier races, she sat further back before taking the lead.
"That's got a lot to do with Mike," said Mott. "Maybe that's what she's always wanted to do. I don't think she has to be on the lead, but she just has to get in her rhythm. When you let her do that, it seems to take less out of her than if you bundle her up and drag her back."
Smith also rode Close Hatches in the Cotillion, but Joel Rosario has ridden her in all of her other races and will be back aboard for the Breeders' Cup.