Champion Royal Delta returns to Spa for G1 Personal Ensign Invitational H.
By Jenny Kellner | 08/22/2013 04:16 PM ET
If there were any doubts about two-time Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta following back-to-back losses this year in Dubai and at Churchill Downs, they were erased in the 2:02.04 it took her to power to a 10 ¾-length victory in the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap.
On Sunday, the 5-year-old mare, a two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, returns to Saratoga Race Course on track for a third straight championship as she heads a field of five for the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign Invitational Handicap. The 1 1/8-mile race will earn the winner an automatic berth and an all-fees-paid entry into the Breeders' Cup Distaff - formerly the Ladies' Classic - this fall as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" series.
"I'm hoping the last race is an indication of good things to come," said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott of Royal Delta, who races for Besilu Stables and has earned more than $4.2 million. "Hopefully she can maintain her form through the end of the year."
Taking the same path as she did last year, Royal Delta opened her 2013 campaign with an easy five-length win in the Grade 3 Sabin in February at Gulfstream Park. She next traveled to Dubai for another try in the Dubai World Cup, finishing 10th after setting the pace, and 2 ½ months later was sent off as the 3-10 favorite in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. Wide throughout, she finished second, beaten five lengths, by Funny Proposition.
"Obviously we were disappointed in the Kentucky race, and a little confused by it," said Mott. "We did take her off Lasix after that, and she'll run without Lasix again."
Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who gave up the mount aboard Game On Dude in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on Sunday, will be aboard Royal Delta once again. She will leave from post position 2 under high weight of 124 pounds as the 2-5 program favorite.
"I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision [for Smith] and I hope for everyone's sake it works out well," said Mott. "I hope she comes back and runs a good race and gets the job done to justify his decision."
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who last year upset Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign with 10-1 shot Love and Pride, sends out Authenticity in the hopes of another surprise.
The 6-year-old Quiet American mare has been no worse than third in six starts for Pletcher this year, including a professional one-length victory in the Grade 3 84 Lumber Shuvee Handicap on July 20 at Saratoga last time out. Prior to that she earned a career high 103 Beyer Speed Figure for her second-place finish to Tiz Miz Sue in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap on May 27 at Belmont Park, and a 102 for her victory in the Grade 2 La Troienne at Churchill Downs.
"I feel like she's doing better coming into this race than the last one, and I thought she was doing well going into that one," said Pletcher, who trains Authenticity for Padua Stables. "Particularly her last two breezes [49.65 on August 19 and 1:01.92 on August 12] were exceptional, and I just feel like her overall appearance, her coat and everything, she looks like she's really just in peak form.
"She certainly needs to be to run in this type of race against a mare the quality of Royal Delta," he added. "We're pleased that Authenticity is as good as she can be, and we'll see what happens on race day. Having a race over the track, I think, helps, and a mile and an eighth is certainly perfect for her. We'll hope for a little racing luck and see what happens."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be aboard Authenticity, who drew post position 5 and was listed as the 7-2 second choice on the morning line.
While Authenticity will be facing Royal Delta for the first time, Centring has already tangled with the champion mare, having finished fourth, beaten 15 lengths in the Delaware Handicap. Prior to that, the 5-year-old A.P. Indy mare was third, beaten 1 ½ lengths, in the Ogden Phipps.
"I don't really believe she liked the track at Delaware," said trainer Tom Albertrani. "She ran way below expectations. She ran well over this track last year. I can see she is training a little sharper coming into this weekend, so I feel pretty good about her. Even if we just hit the frame, we're going to be happy. If Royal Delta stubs a toe or something, we're going to be there, but we're going to do our best just to be in the frame, hopefully. She ran well two races back at Belmont, so we're just hoping for that same kind of effort out of her."
Javier Castellano has the mount on Centring, a Darley Stable homebred who will leave from post position 4. She is listed at 12-1 on the morning line.
Rounding out the field are Grade 1 Apple Blossom winner On Fire Baby (5-1), most recently second by a head to Authenticity in the La Troienne, and Open Water (20-1), eighth in the De La Rose on August 3 at Saratoga.
The field for the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign Handicap: