Headlined by defending Ladies Classic Champion Royal Delta, the undefeated runners Awesome Feather and My Miss Aurelia and two-time Grade 1 winners Questing (GB) and Love and Pride, and filled out by the classy and accomplished runners Grace Hall, Class Included and Include Me Out and the Ladies Classic promises to deliver fireworks.
Awesome Feather is a perfect 10-for-10 in a three-season career. Trainer Chad Brown is looking forward to Friday’s showdown against a stellar field.
“I feel very good,” Brown said. “My filly has been training very well back home. She’s come to Santa Anita, been on the track three days in a row, and every day she’s looked dynamite out there. I’m optimistic that she’s going to come with a big race.”
Awesome Feather, who will be ridden by the only pilot she has known, Jeffrey Sanchez, has overcome a tendon injury and has beaten the odds to return and compete at the sport’s highest level.
“I’m happy to be part of it,” Brown said. “She’s a special horse. She’s overcome a lot. Right now, I think she is in the best shape of her career.”
Brown has been around plenty of nice horses but Awesome Feather may be the most popular.
“She has a huge fan base,” Brown said. “We get letters, horse treats and flowers all the time. It’s nice that she has a following. It’s a great story. I’m very fortunate to have her in my barn. She’s just a very, very rare horse. You can breed thousands of horses and not get one like her.”
Royal Delta, off the strength of her recent romp in the Beldame Invitational (G1), is certain to be a formidable foe. The 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker will be ridden by Mike Smith who has been aboard in her last four starts.
Mott could set two records if the Besilu Stables’ star repeats in the Ladies Classic: a third straight victory in the Ladies’ Classic and a fifth overall victory in the race. He won with Ajina in 1997 and Escena in 1998 and Unrivaled Belle in 2010.
“I think it’s very competititve,” Mott said. “You have to respect a lot of the horses in there. It looks like a good, fast pace. And it looks like some horses have speed and good quality. There is no shortage of talent.”
Mott trained Royal Delta’s granddam and dam, and developed Royal Delta into a star in 2011 for breeder-owner Prince Saud bin Khaled, a longtime client. When the prince died in February of 2011, his racing stable was sold to settle his estate. Royal Delta went to auction the week following her victory in the 2011 Ladies Classic. Benjiman Leon purchased the filly for $8.5 million.
“I had no expectations of getting her back,” Mott said. “It was a sad day when I had to walk her out of my barn and down to the van and send her to Keeneland. It was a little bit like I was walking to my best friend’s funeral.
“Then I got over to the sale and I guess I got over it,” he said. “I hung around the sale and everybody was looking at her and I was there when she went through the ring. Actually, it was quite exciting, knowing that I had been part of it, and I didn’t know what was going to happen.
Mott said he bumped into Leon after the filly was purchased and congratulated him on the buy. He said that Leon asked him to call in a week or two.
“I still didn’t know,” Mott said. “She was at the farm and he (Leon) invited me down. I was going through Ocala and stopped in. At that point, I still didn’t know if I was going to get her. He was laughing at me and said, ‘We are going to give her to you to train.’ It was nice, it was great.”
My Miss Aurelia, like Awesome Feather, is unbeaten in her career for George Bolton and Stonestreet Stables. The daughter of Smart Strike is perfect in six lifetime starts. She won the Cotillion Stakes (G1) at PARX Racing over Questing in her most recent outing. Corey Nakatani will ride for trainer Steve Asmussen. Last year’s Champion 2-year-old filly, My Miss Aurelia has been working at Santa Anita since early October.
Pletcher said he believes the Ladies Classic is perhaps the most contentious of all the races on the two days of championship racing.
“It’s a very tough race, as deep as any of them,” he said. “We’re hoping that Love and Pride having raced over the track and being here for three works over the track creates some sort of an advantage for her.”
Love and Price/Benoit photo