Benjamin Leon Jr. is ready for his international adventure with Royal Delta. The 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker is scheduled to run in the 17th edition of the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) March 31 at Meydan Racecourse.
“I really am going to love to see Dubai,” said Leon, a South Florida health care magnate, in a recent interview. “I’ve never been there; it will be my first time.”
Last year, in the name of his Besilu Stables, Leon purchased Royal Delta for $8.5 million from Chanteclair Farm, agent for the dispersal of Palides Investments, during the Keeneland November breeding stock auction. After bidding what turned out to be the sale-topping price, Leon said the dark bay or brown filly was a gift to his wife, Silvia, who was celebrating her birthday that day. But he added that any foals produced by Royal Delta in the future would be his.
Since then, Royal Delta has been honored with an Eclipse Award as 2011’s champion 3-year-old filly and has made her 2012 racing debut, finishing second to Awesome Maria in the Sabin Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 25 at Gulfstream Park. Royal Delta lost by eight lengths in that 1 1/16-mile event, which was her first outing since a 2 1/2-length triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) last Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.
Read below what Leon had to say about the filly’s Sabin performance and his outlook for the World Cup, which will be run at nearly 1 1/4 miles over a synthetic Tapeta surface:
The Blood-Horse: How did you feel about Royal Delta’s effort in the Sabin?
Leon: “We knew that it was not the ideal distance for her. She’s a distance horse. It was a race in preparation for Dubai. Of course if we had won, we would have enjoyed it better, but the goal was Dubai. After all, Royal Delta placed third before her grade I win in the (TVG) Alabama Stakes and she placed second before the Breeders’ Cup (Ladies’ Classic). That is Bill Mott’s way of training and way of doing things, these preparation races.
“Actually, I was very happy. She came out not hurt; she came out awesome. And she got her (prep) race. Otherwise, it would have been five months since November by the time she made it to Dubai. It reminded her what it (racing) is all about and what she needs to do.”
Where did the idea come from to run Royal Delta in the World Cup?
“(Royal Delta’s Hall of Fame trainer) Bill Mott. He really thinks that she’s got a fair shot.”
Why does Mott think that?
“It’s (because of) different things. The filly is working out great. She’s a distance horse. She won (a 1 1/16-mile allowance race) on the Keeneland Polytrack, which is the same type of (synthetic) surface she is going to be racing on in Dubai. She handled herself very nice there (at Keeneland), very nice.
“She won (the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic) on dirt by 2 1/2 lengths at 1 1/8 (miles), and there (in Dubai) you have another furlong. If that race, the Ladies’ Classic, would have been 10 furlongs instead of nine, she would have won by maybe eight or 10 lengths.
“But she is going to be racing against the boys (in Dubai), so it’s going to be hard; it’s going to be difficult. I’m going to enjoy the week in Dubai regardless of the outcome. I told Bill Mott we’re going to have a good time regardless of the outcome.
“If she (Royal Delta) places second, we’re going to have a very good time and if she wins, we’re going to have a great time. But we are going to have a good time anyway at the worst.
“That’s the way you have to do things even though I’ve been a competitor all my life--in softball first. I learned my whole lifetime as an athlete to be a competitor. But when you go to compete in horse racing, you know you are going to lose more than you’re going to win. (Nearly) every horse loses.
“I think Royal Delta is an exceptional filly. She’s big, she’s strong, she’s beautiful, and she’s fast. And she seems to handle the Polytrack excellently as well. So we’ll see what happens. We will never find out if we don’t take her there.”
How much of a chance do you think Royal Delta has to win the World Cup?
“No one has a crystal ball. She’s a girl against the guys. According to what Mr. Mott thinks, she’s got a fair shot. I’m a newlywed in the Thoroughbred industry, but when see you an exceptional horse in any breed, you don’t really have to be an expert in order to know when a horse has all the assets: conformation, pedigree, and racing ability. I think if it’s her moment, she’ll win, and if it’s not her moment, she won’t. Believe me, I’ll come back home happy either way. But I’ll be happier, if she wins.
“It’s the challenge of allowing and giving the horse every opportunity–as the owner needs to do–to be able to show off herself and her abilities. Why not take a shot at winning one of the most important races–if not the most important race–in the world? How many opportunities does anybody have to take a real shot at it? I think that she has a real shot.”