Besilu Stable’s Royal Delta, champion 3-year-old filly of 2011, returned to the scene of her greatest victory with an eight-length victory in the Fleur de Lis Handicap Saturday night at Churchill Downs.
The Fleur de Lis, which means “flower of the lily” and honors the symbol in the city of Louisville’s flag, was the third of four graded stakes races run under the lights as part of Churchill Downs’ special “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” nighttime racing program.
Royal Delta, who capped her championship season a year ago with a 2 ½-length triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs, rebounded from a ninth-place finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1) to clock 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:49.49, which was 1.02 seconds fast than Ron the Greek would run in the Grade 1, $437,200 Stephen Foster Handicap one race later.
Ridden for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and conditioned by Hall of Fame and Churchill Downs’ all-time leading trainer Bill Mott, Royal Delta collected her sixth victory – fourth in graded stakes company – from 11 career starts. The $99,251 first prize jumped her career earnings to $1,813,851.
The 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker relaxed nicely for Smith off the early pace. She engulfed the leaders when asked around the turn and into the stretch. She promptly dispatched the runner-up and was gathered up nearly the entire final furlong en route to an impressive score.
“She’s just a monster,” said Smith. “The way she drove away from some really good fillies was pretty impressive. Bill (Mott) said to get her out of there and break well and try not to take too much hold of her or I would change her stride. He said to try to get in a rhythm with her. She just had them over a barrel today. I could tell you a lot of different things, but I could have ridden her backwards today and she still would have won.”
Royal Delta paid $3.20, $2.60 and $2.10 as the 3-5 odds-on favorite in the field of six fillies and mares. Afleeting Lady, who was 4 ¼ lengths clear of third-place finisher St. John’s River, returned $3.80 and $2.60. St. John’s River paid $2.20. Sterling Madame, It’s Tea Time and Distorted Love completed the order of finish.
Benjamin Leon, owner of Royal Delta, said: “She ran good in Dubai, but had a bad trip. Today, I don’t think (jockey) Mike (Smith) had to hit her a single time. He gave her a great ride and the filly did her job. I’m very happy.”
–Churchill Downs Communications contributed to this report.
Royal Delta/Reed Palmer photo