They say there are no second chances in life. Just try to tell that to America’s two-time champion mare, Royal Delta. The eight-and-a-half million dollar woman has been there, done that. Her second chance in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic last fall at Santa Anita produced a masterful front-running performance that secured her place in history. Not that the Bill Mott trained miss needed a second chance … she had won the big race the year before at Churchill Downs as well, meaning the five-year-old daughter of Empire Maker is one of only two mares ever to repeat in the championship race. The Dubai World Cup is a bit of a different story for America’s heroine, though. Suffering an absolute nightmare trip in the world’s richest race last year, Royal Delta checked in 9th of 13 under rider Jose Lezcano. There is good reason to believe that things will be different for her this time around.
All reports, as well as photos, from Dubai this week have Royal Delta looking every bit of those $8.5 million shelled out for her by Besilu Stables after her first Breeders’ Cup win. After another year of maturity, she appears to be even stronger now than this time last year when many gave her a big chance. Unlike 2012, she arrives to Dubai coming off a stylish win in her seasonable debut. The five length score in the Grade 3 Sabin Stakes was as impressive as it was easy. This time around she will be ridden by one of the top big race jockeys in the world in Mike Smith. Under Smith, she has learned a new freewheeling style that could fit in very well with the pace scenario in tomorrow’s race. And finally, do not be fooled by last year’s unlucky attempt on the synthetic surface at Meydan Racecourse. She gets over the surface just fine, as most offspring of Empire Maker do, and keep in mind; she was an overpowering winner of her only race on a synthetic surface in the U.S. back as a three-year-old.
While all signs point to a much improved Dubai World Cup run for Royal Delta … for $10 million dollars, you know the race is not coming up easy. Besides American stalwarts, Animal Kingdom and Dullahan, our distaff champion will also face a deep cast of international stakes winners, including Hunter’s Light. The five-year-old son of Dubawi is a second-place finish to Cirrus des Aigles away from being on a huge streak, and has been nothing if not impressive in his two wins this year in Dubai. If Royal Delta can indeed handle her accomplished competition tomorrow, she will be bucking more than one trend to do so.
Despite being the dominant nation back when the World Cup was run on dirt, Americans have not fared well at all since the shift to Meydan and their all-weather Tapeta racing surface, having failed to finish in the money in any of the three runnings. While American luck has run dry in recent years, girl power has never been a factor in the United Arab Emirates, with no female horse visiting the winner’s circle in 17 editions.
What does all this mean for America’s favorite female? She’s in with a shot, but it won’t be easy. Since dominating her competition in her 2010 debut, Royal Delta has continued to improve ever since, to the point of unquestionably being one of the finest horses in the United States. The 1 ¼ mile distance of the World Cup should not be a problem for her, nor do I think the surface will be either.
Seeing Royal Delta and Mike Smith on the early lead tomorrow would come as no surprise, and provided it is a sensible pace, as expected, any horse that wants to pass her will most assuredly have their work cut out for them. As an unapologetic supporter of racing in the United States, nothing would make me happier than seeing Royal Delta make amends in the desert.
Above photo courtesy of the Dubai Racing Club