Champion Royal Delta made it look all too easy in dispatching rivals in the 66th running of the Personal Ensign Invitational Handicap (G1) on Sunday at Saratoga.The victory earned the 5-year-old mare, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, an automatic berth and an all-fees-paid entry into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita this fall as part of the
Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” series. Should she run, Royal Delta would be bidding for her third straight victory in the race, but Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said that like last year, the Besilu Stables colorbearer would be cross-entered in the Classic.
Piloted by Mike Smith, Royal Delta rated off On Fire Baby early. She assumed command down the backstretch and widened her advantage into the far turn. Authenticity put in a bit of a rally at the head of the lane but never seriously challenged Royal Delta. Smith kept busy on Royal Delta before hitting the wire 4 1/2 lengths clear of Authenticity.
“I just was happy I got away good today, and once we did that and she got into her monstrous stride;horses seem to have to take two [strides] to her one,” said Smith. “She’s a machine. Down the lane, she got to looking around the track a little bit, so I got after her just a little to keep her going.”
Royal Delta’s time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:48.34 as she avenged her defeat in last year’s edition to the Todd Pletcher-trained Love and Pride.
“Everything went wrong, didn’t it, last year,” said Smith. “She got really, really hot. I didn’t think I rode her really well last year. I was just getting to know her. I didn’t let her use that big stride that she has early. I should have then because I think I would have won that one. But you live and learn, and it’s just getting better and better.”
Sent off at 3-5 by the crowd of 18,706, Royal Delta returned $3.10 for a $2 win bet. The victory, her sixth in a Grade 1, was her third in five starts this year, and the winner’s purse of $360,000 increased her bankroll to $4,611,126.
“When she comes with her ‘A’ game, that’s what you expect,” said trainer Bill Mott of Royal Delta, a 9 ¾-length winner of the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap prior to the Personal Ensign. “She was just good. She was good last time. Mike said she was strong and felt great.”
Mott said the next start for Royal Delta likely would be on Sept. 28 at Belmont Park in the Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame Invitational, which she won last year prior to the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.
“I think that’s what we’d probably do,” he said.