A much anticipated showdown between Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar is on tap in the 74th running of the Beldame Invitational (G1) at Belmont Park on Super Saturday.
Victory in the Beldame, a one-turn race run at 1 1/8 miles, automatically qualifies the winner for entry into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff as part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
Royal Delta, a 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, has in her past two starts assumed her place as the top older female runner in the country, having won the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap by 10 ¾ lengths and the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Invitational Handicap by 4 ½ lengths. Named Champion Three-Year-Old Filly in 2011 and Champion Older Female last year, she seeks to repeat in the Beldame, a race she won last year by 9 ½ lengths.
The 3-year-old Princess of Sylmar heads five others attempting to dethrone the queen, and she brings substantial credentials to the table, having won three straight Grade 1 races – the Kentucky Oaks, TVG Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama – in a nine-race career with seven victories.
Princess of Sylmar will be facing older opposition for the first time on Saturday.
“She’s a serious filly,” Royal Delta’s Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said of Princess of Sylmar. “You can’t take her for granted, but Royal Delta is doing well. I would say it seems she’s on the same path she was last year [winning the Beldame and Distaff].”
Trainer Todd Pletcher understands Royal Delta, the 3-5 morning-line favorite, can be an extremely formidable pace maker, but he does not want to see Princess of Sylmar forced to commit early.
“We will not alter her style, and I think that’s really important that [jockey] Javier [Castellano] understand that and not take her out of her own style,” Pletcher said of Princess of Sylmar, the 2-1 second choice on the morning line. “What we’ve got to hope is the last eighth of a mile, the last sixteenth of a mile that Royal Delta comes back to us a little bit. Obviously, we can be helped by someone showing some initiative early, but if they don’t do it, we’re just going to let our filly run her race and hope for the best.”
Many of the other leading 3-year-old fillies in the country competed last weekend in the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx Racing, but Pletcher preferred to run Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame in what will be her first start at Belmont Park.
“The Cotillion was the obvious second choice,” he said. “The things we didn’t like about the Cotillion was backing up from a mile and a quarter [in the Alabama] to a mile and a sixteenth, we were going to carry top weight, and it was run over what I consider to be kind of a quirky surface at Parx. It was more of a gut feeling.”
Princess of Sylmar will carry 120 pounds in the Beldame, while the others all tote 123.