Champion Royal Delta faces Awesome Maria in the Sabin.

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Champion Royal Delta faces Awesome Maria in the Sabin.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Royal Delta Faces Awesome Maria in Sabin

Heavyweight matchup features two of the best older fillies in the country.

More than three months after winning the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) and locking up champion 3-year-old filly honors, Royal Delta will begin her 2012 season in the $100,000 Sabin Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 25 at Gulfstream Park.

The now 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker  will make her first start for Ben Leon’s Besilu Stables, which purchased her for $8.5 million four days after the Breeders’ Cup. She will use the race as a prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) on March 31 and will face only four rivals. One of them is grade I winner and defending Sabin titleholder Awesome Maria, the Todd Pletcher trainee who returns from an injury to make her first start since last June.
Post time for the 1 1/16-mile Sabin is slated for 3:49 p.m. EST.
Trainer Bill Mott has worked Royal Delta six times since she arrived in South Florida in January, including her last one on Feb. 16 at Payson Park Training Center when she drilled a bullet five furlongs in 1:01. The dark bay/brown filly received a short and well deserved break after capping a stellar 2011 campaign in the BC Ladies Classic at Churchill Downs where she scored by 2 1/2 lengths. Other victories included the Alabama (gr. I) at Saratoga and the Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II) at Pimlico. She was also graded stakes-placed twice and tallied an allowance victory at Keeneland.
Bred by Palides Investments N.V. and out of the A.P. Indy mare Delta Princess, Royal Delta has already earned $1,694,600 from eight starts. Regular rider Jose Lezcano will have the mount in the Sabin.
“I’d like to see a good, solid effort in this race so we can look forward to Dubai," Mott said. "She’s doing really well. She’s had a bit of a rest but her recent works have been good. She’s showed she is willing to go long, willing to work, and she looks good doing it.

“I think we’re at a slight disadvantage at a mile-and-a-sixteenth. It’s a short wire turning for home and I don’t think it plays into our filly’s style. I don’t think that’s her best race; she’s a bit of a stretch runner. I don’t think the conditions are the most ideal but we’re running in the race that’s available.”

E. Paul Robsham Stables’ homebred Awesome Maria was on her way to a fantastic season in 2011, but was derailed by a condylar fracture of her left front leg. The 5-year-old daughter of Maria’s Mon suffered the injury after winning the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont in June, the last of her four victories in as many starts.  
She also scored the Sabin by 4 3/4 lengths in her season debut, followed up with a win in the Rampart (gr. III) over the same track, and then took the Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont.
Awesome Maria has been working steadily toward her comeback at Palm Meadows, and had her final tune-up Feb. 19 when breezing five furlongs in 1:00 2/5—the best of 32 works that morning. Overall, the talented mare has produced a 7-3-1 record from 12 starts and earnings of $842,375. John Velazquez will be aboard once again.
“She’s training exceptionally well,” said Pletcher. “We’ve been a little frustrated because she’s been ready to run for a little while. We tried to get her in an allowance race about a month ago which we didn’t get to go. We’ve kind of landed in a difficult situation running off a long layoff in a tough race, but she’s trained very well, she likes this track, so we’re optimistic. She’s a top class filly at a mile and a sixteenth and so we’ll hope for the best.”
The other three 4-year-old fillies in the field will have a tall task to stay with the two favorites, but are all entering off good efforts. Ghostly Darkness makes her season debut after an allowance win at Laurel in November and will make her first start for Eric Reed; Canadian Mistress finished first in an optional claimer in the slop at Gulfstream Feb. 9 but was disqualified for interference and placed third; and Groupie Doll is an improving filly who won the Gardenia (gr. III) at Ellis Park last year. Groupie Doll missed by less than a length to the speedy colt Boys At Tosconova  in an optional claimer Jan. 27 at Gulfstream in her season bow.
“We’ve been pointing for the race for quite some time, although not knowing it would come up this tough," said Groupie Doll's trainer Buff Bradley. "She’s very fast and we look forward to the race.”
$100,000 Sabin Stakes (gr. III, Race 8, 3:49 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Ghostly Darkness (KY), R Maragh, 117, E R Reed
2. Royal Delta (KY), J Lezcano, 123, W I Mott
3. Awesome Maria (KY), J R Velazquez, 123, T A Pletcher
4. Groupie Doll (KY), C H Borel, 121, W Bradley
5. Canadian Mistress (KY), E Trujillo, 117, M D Wolfson