Bill Mott was confident that Royal Delta was well prepared for her 2013 debut in Sunday’s $100,000 Sabin (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
But the Hall of Fame trainer will admit that he held his breath a bit until the two-time champion mare crossed the finish line five lengths in front.
“A sigh of relief. I’m glad it’s over,” said Mott after Royal Delta outclassed her four rivals in the 1 1/16-mile stakes for fillies and mares. “I’m happy the way everything went coming in. She came into the race great. She worked well. Obviously, we have more to do, but it’s a great way to start. I’ve seen horses that were 1-9 and didn’t perform that way. It’s good to see her continue on the same path.”
Royal Delta, who captured the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) for the second straight year to conclude her Eclipse Award-winning 2012 season, bobbled a bit at the start of the Sabin but quickly recovered to press early pacesetter All for Thee on the turn into the backstretch. The 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker took over the lead on the backstretch and drew away to a dominating victory without urging from jockey Mike Smith.
“She’s amazing. She’s so special,” said owner Benjamin Leon, whose Besilu Stables purchased Royal Delta at sale for $8.5 million two days after her triumph in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. “She never seems to stop amusing all of us. She makes things like this look so easy when we all know it’s not easy. She looks great and more fit than I’ve ever know her (to be).”
Royal Delta finished a distant second to Awesome Maria in last year’s Sabin in her first start for Besilu Stables. However, Mott thought that the Kentucky-bred mare wasn’t as physically prepared for her 2012 debut as she was Sunday.
“I think she was working a little bit better this year. I think she was a little stronger. When she came out of the Breeders’ Cup, she didn’t have to go through a sale. People probably don’t realize how much of a toll going through a sale two days after a race can take. She was tired after that I think. She lightened up and lost some weight from it,” Mott said. “She’s more mature now and filled out better.”
Royal Delta ran 1 1/16 miles Sunday in 1:43.31. All for Thee, who was ridden by Jose Lezcano, finished second, 3 ½ lengths clear of Grace Hall, the 2-1 second choice ridden by Joel Rosario.
“She wasn’t the best coming out of the gate, but it was her first start in a while and I was able to stay on. Bill said he’s going to work with her a lot more in the gate, so I’m sure she’ll be better in her next race,” said winning jockey Mike Smith. “It’s just so exciting to have her back. She’s such a special horse and to have her back again is great.”
Royal Delta’s triumph capped a big weekend for Mott, who saddled three winners at Gulfstream on Saturday, including The Very One Stakes (G3) winner Starformer and Mac Diarmida (G2) Stakes victor Amira’s Prince.
“They’re all running so well. We won two in New York today. With a seven-horse stable up there, we’ve won three or four up there the last three days,” said Mott, who also saddled exciting handicap prospect Cigar Street for a strong allowance victory at Sunday’s fourth race at Gulfstream. “It’s been a great weekend. I’ve had weekends that have been as good probably, but it doesn’t happen that often.”
Royal Delta is scheduled to leave for Dubai on March 17 to run in the March 30 $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1), in which she finished ninth last year after stumbling at the start and having a rough trip.
“I want to get her there and do as well going into the race as she did last year. If she can do that we’ll be in OK shape. We’re going to run against some of the best horses in the world. This is not going to be an easy task. It’s a tough journey and a very tough race,” Mott said. “We’re going to be racing against horses that have been training there since October, November. Some of those horses are already acclimated. I think with a good trip she can make a good show of it.”
Royal Delta/Gustafson photo