Standing along the wall that lines the tunnel through which horses enter the track for the post parade at Santa Anita Park, I held my breath in anticipation for the grand fillies that would soon grace my vision. I’d seen them all before, whether it be at a previous Breeders’ Cup or at the morning works, or perhaps both, but something about the moment left me breathless as I eagerly waited for the field for the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI) to emerge from the tunnel, their necks arched as their fierce jockeys sat aboard them, the call to post sounding as they pranced onto the dirt oval.
And suddenly the classy field stepped out of the darkness of the tunnel and into my vision. My eyes took in some of the best female racehorses on the planet, including the undefeated champions My Miss Aurelia and Awesome Feather – two of my personal favorites.
Photo by Mary Cage
But just behind Awesome Feather was Royal Delta – the horse that took my breath away. I focused my vision on her, watching her in awe as she and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith sauntered onto the track. I was left in absolute wonder of the reigning champion, feeling a chill as she gazed right at me, inches from me as she strolled through the tunnel.
Royal Delta broke cleanly from the sixth gate, the same slot from which she’d captured the previous year’s Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs. She then proceeded to take the lead, with pressure from multiple grade one winners Include Me Out and Love and Pride to her outside. The reigning champion maintained a minor advantage as she led the field into the clubhouse turn, Mike Smith sitting stationary aboard her.
In awe, I discovered that the initial quarter-mile Royal Delta had recorded was 22.69 – the fastest first quarter in the Ladies’ Classic (Distaff) since the fraction set by Bear Now in the 2007 Distaff, won by Ginger Punch. Despite the brisk pace, Royal Delta appeared comfortable on the front-end, with Love and Pride and Include Me Out hot on her heels.
Royal Delta, who’d never won from the front-end before, shocked me yet again, posting a half-mile time of 45.81. With worry and astonishment, I whispered to my mother, “If she holds on, she’s a super-horse.” I couldn’t help but realize the parallels my statement formed with race caller Trevor Denman’s words as Zenyatta turned for home in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).
In spite of the blistering fractions she was setting, Royal Delta continued to lead the star-studded field as the Thoroughbreds entered the final curve. Love and Pride breathed down Royal Delta’s neck as My Miss Aurelia began to accelerate behind the reigning victress, the track bending as the far turn gave way to the homestretch.
Mike Smith began to ask his mount to commence her run and Royal Delta responded, lowering her head as the others chased after her. Down the stretch, Include Me Out and My Miss Aurelia gained on her, threatening her lead as they raced under the shadow of the grandstand. But Royal Delta called upon all her class and dug deep, leaving me beaming as she crossed the wire to defend her title in a valiant effort.
|Royal Delta winning the Ladies' Classic|
Photo by Terri Cage
So what makes Royal Delta the tremendous champion she is? Of course, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has quite a bit to do with it, as well as the accomplished jockeys who have ridden her. But her success is, in large part, due to her breeding. Foaled in Kentucky on February 2, 2008, Royal Delta’s bloodlines certainly are royal.
Photo by Terri Cage
Bred by Palides Investments N.V., Inc., Royal Delta is sired by Empire Maker, who won three grade ones throughout his career, including the Belmont Stakes (GI). In that Belmont, Empire Maker spoiled the Triple Crown bid of Funny Cide, a horse he had finished second to in the Kentucky Derby (GI). Empire Maker has not only produced Royal Delta, but also the grade one-winning Derby runner-ups like himself, Bodemeister and Pioneerof the Nile. The Juddmonte homebred is also the sire of the additional grade one winners Acoma, Country Star, Grace Hall, Icon Project, and Mushka.
Empire Maker is a son of the brilliant racehorse and sire Unbridled, who is a tremendous sire of sires. Other sons of the dual-classic winner that have gone on to be successful stallions include Broken Vow, Grindstone, and, of course, Unbridled’s Song. This is the Mr. Prospector sire line, which has interestingly produced the last five winners of the Ladies’ Classic.
Royal Delta is out of a mare that was quite successful at the track in Delta Princess. The mare, who was actually trained by Bill Mott as well, won three grade three races on the turf. Delta Princess is also the dam of Empire Way, a graded stakes-placed colt. Delta Princess herself is out of a productive broodmare, being a daughter of a mare who also yielded the grade/group one-winning runners Biondetti and Indy Five Hundred, in addition to the sire A.P. Delta. Intriguingly, Royal Delta’s third dam, the multiple grade one-winning Proud Delta, was the Champion Older Mare of 1976.
Why stop there? It must not be ignored that Royal Delta’s broodmare sire is the greatA.P. Indy, who is a renowned sire and sire of sires. Yet, he is also a productive damsire, having sired the dams of such grade one winners as Bluegrass Cat, Mr. Sidney, Plum Pretty, Super Saver, and Wait a While. As if his roll of grade one winners produced as a broodmare sire wasn’t impressive enough, A.P. Indy has been among the top twenty-five damsires on the continent for the past six years, peaking at number four last year.
Notably, the sire of Royal Delta’s second dam is the great Lyphard, a son of Northern Dancer who was the leading sire in not just North America, but France and Great Britain as well. The sire of 115 stakes winners, Lyphard was the broodmare sire of such grade one winners as Hatoof, Passinetti, and Skimming.
Royal Delta has the true makings of a champion. Her pedigree, combined with her charisma, brilliance, and accomplished connections, aid her in being a tremendous racehorse – one that delights fans with her triumphs and appeal. With hopes and dreams attached, I find myself very grateful that her connections plan to bring this outstanding Thoroughbred back for one more year of her career. And once Royal Delta’s spectacular days at the track are over, we can only hope that her remarkable bloodlines hold up in assisting her in producing more Thoroughbreds like herself.
|Mike Smith aboard Royal Delta following the 2012 Ladies' Classic|
Photo by Terri Cage