Besilu Stables' champion racemare Royal Delta aims for a title defense July 20 in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. I), seeking redemption after a five-length loss in the June 15 Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs. The summer classic for fillies and mares will carry grade I status for the first time since 1989.
The 1 1/4-mile Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park went to the 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker in a nail-biter last season when she defeated Tiz Miz Sue by a hard-fought neck after winning the Fleur de Lis by eight lengths. Last year's Del 'Cap victory was also part of Royal Delta's second championship season, when she went on to become just the second runner in history to win back-to-back editions of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I).
This year there's no Tiz Miz Sue, who will bypass the weekend races and rest up for a start in the Aug. 25 Personal Ensign (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course (she finished fourth while Royal Delta was second in that event last year). And although the five others entered are hoping to find the defending champion soft, the field could be even smaller as two of the five—Padua Stables' Authenticity and Gillian Campbell and partners' Summer Applause—are cross-entered in the $200,000 Shuvee Handicap (gr. III) on the same day at Saratoga Race Course.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said Royal Delta has been training well since her loss at Churchill after a 10th-place finish in the March 30 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (UAE-I). Her only win so far this year was in the Jan. 17 Sabin Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park.
"She is doing very well," Mott said. "We could not ask for her to be doing any better. I would love to see her run in the Delaware Handicap the way she ran in the Fleur de Lis last year. When she runs a good one, she is awesome. She never really runs poorly and I think it gets to the point where we expect her to win, so when she does not, but still runs well, we get a little dumbfounded."
Mott is encouraged Royal Delta won over the Delaware surface last year, but he is also cautious. The champion racemare carries 123-pound highweight under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith from post 3; last year she carried 124 compared to Tiz Miz Sue's 115.
"She handled it," he said. "I am not sure it was her best race, but she got the job done. We are planning on shipping down to Delaware the morning of the race. It worked last year, so I think that would be the best approach this year."
"She had a little rest over the winter, and when we brought her back she had a real nice race in the Obeah," said Matz. "I think a mile and a quarter will be a great distance for her. I know she has only won one race, and that was as a 2-year-old, but she has been close a bunch of times. The big thing is the distance. She needs a lot of distance. The distance is perfect for her. There are not too many horses that can get a mile and a quarter. The one thing I know is that this filly can get a mile and a quarter and she had a real nice race over the track last time."
$750,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, approximate post 5:20 p.m. EDT), fillies & mares 3YOs & Up, 1 1/4 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. She's All In (OK), V.R. Carrasco, 112, D K Von Hemel, 15-1
2. Summer Applause (KY), A. Cintron, 118, C C Brown, 7-2
3. Royal Delta (KY), M.E. Smith, 123, W I Mott, 1-1
4. Authenticity (KY), TBA, 118, T A Pletcher, 3-1
5. And Why Not (KY), J. Navarro, 112, M R Matz, 15-1
6. Centring (KY), I. Ortiz, Jr., 115, T Albertrani, 6-1