Photo: Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire
racing royalty, that is what she was. From the very first time she stepped on
the racetrack one fall afternoon at Belmont Park, I faithfully followed the
racing career of Royal Delta. As
good as she was, it was the natural thing to do. Bred to be a good one, and
with looks to kill, the daughter of Empire Maker and Delta Princess was destined for stardom from the beginning.
beginning came the day before Halloween in 2010, when the daughter of a Belmont
Stakes winner debuted at the same track where her sire earned his most
important victory. There were eight other fillies in that maiden race, but by
the time the field hit the stretch it was all about the 7-1 shot from the barn
of Bill Mott. Needing to wait to
find room behind a wall of horses, when Royal Delta found an opening, she was
gone. Tall, dark, and pretty, she made the field of well-intentioned young
females look completely outclassed. A 12-length winner in her first career
start, class would be a consistent theme for her, throughout the next three
years on the racetrack.
would be the only time her owner and breeder, Prince Saud bin Khaled, would see Royal Delta run. He died early in
2011, before she was ready to run for the first time as a three-year-old. She
seemed not quite ready to run when she did make her second career start. The
performance, a ninth-place finish in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs was
called a “dud” by her Hall of Fame trainer, but Mott knew that was not the real
Royal Delta, and her next two starts would quickly prove him right.
by a multiple graded stakes winning turf mare by A.P. Indy, Royal Delta had
little trouble taking to the old Polytrack surface at Keeneland in her third
start. Going wide in the allowance test, she powered home in the rain
impressively. It was enough for Mott to consider her for the Kentucky Oaks
three weeks later. Never one to rush, though, she was held out of Plum Pretty’s
Oaks and pointed instead for the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan a couple of weeks
later. A similar winning move that was unleashed at Keeneland carried her to
the winner’s circle in Pimlico. Four starts into her career, and a star was
victory in the Black-Eyed Susan, on the day before Shackleford bested Animal
Kingdom in the Preakness, was not only her first graded stakes score, but it
also represented the first of 19 consecutive graded stakes in which the soon to
be champion would compete. She would win more than half of them.
starts after her victory in Maryland, the trajectory of the racing career of
Royal Delta was launched in earnest. The Grade 1 Alabama Stakes of 2011 brought together a star-studded field, but
on this August afternoon at Saratoga, one star shined brightly above the rest.
In one of the most prestigious races a three-year-old filly can win, and in her
sixth lifetime start, Royal Delta won it a way that was proof positive that she
was, and would be, something special.
the opportunity to see Royal Delta several times in person, including two consecutive
victories in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
The first came under the lights at Churchill Downs, and her decisive victory
there cemented her status as the best three-year-filly in the land. She had a
way about her that was different than other horses. I always thought that she
was very well named. She had the look of a classy European, yet she was running
on the dirt. In her races, she ran a bit low to the ground, reminding me of her
Horse of the Year broodmare sire.
her victory in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, Royal Delta was auctioned off as part of
the dispersal sale of her deceased owner. Going in, it was unknown whether the
soon to be named champion would ever race again. With her breeding, and
especially her prowess on the racetrack, she was purchased for the royal sum of
$8.5 million at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale by Benjamin Leon, of
Besilu Stables. Leon had no intention of ushering his new champion to the
Royal Delta may have been at her very best. She ran seven times, and won four.
Her travels for her new owner took her to Florida, Dubai, Kentucky, Delaware, Saratoga,
Belmont, and finally Santa Anita. She had no luck on the synthetic surface at
Meydan, but in America, she finished first or second in all six starts. She
romped in the Fleur de Lis, and she was ultra-game in a Delaware Handicap win,
and a Personal Ensign defeat. That fall, she proved untouchable in the Beldame,
before running them off their feet in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff under Mike Smith.
that win on the other coast, where my appreciation for Royal Delta reached
another level. Only the great ones can win consecutive editions of the Breeders’
Cup, on two very different racing surfaces, and she did it with two decidedly
different running styles. It was as if she knew that she was best that
afternoon at Santa Anita and dared her classy competition to try to prove
otherwise. They could not.
final season of racing, Royal Delta may not have been as consistent as she had
been the year before, but she most certainly had her moments. She won the
Sabin, the Delaware Handicap, and the Personal Ensign, around another
disappointing try in the Dubai World Cup. It was enough to ultimately land a
third Eclipse Award.
The Champion Older Female of 2013 ended her season with a
runner-up finish to Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame, and a fourth-place
finish to Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but I will always remember her
defense of the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap that year. She was simply in another
class from her competition, and today especially, I believe it is a great way
to remember Royal Delta.
the unsuccessful attempt at a third consecutive Breeders’ Cup victory, owner
Benjamin Leon announced that Royal Delta had done enough on the racetrack. The
soon to be three-time champion would be shipped to Ireland to be bred to the
world’s top sire, Galileo. It was the beginning of her ultimate demise, but in
fairness, her passing due to foaling complications could have happened
told, Royal Delta won 10 graded stakes. Even more impressively, she won an
Eclipse Award in three consecutive seasons. She retired with an outstanding
record of 12 wins, 5 seconds, and 1 third from 22 starts. Her career earnings
of $4,811,126 land her as one of the richest race mares ever to grace an
American racetrack. In four seasons, she won six Grade 1 races. Two of those,
of course, came on the big stage of the Breeders’ Cup. She traveled the world,
and was a graded stakes winner at seven different racetracks.
not have been as spectacular as Rachel Alexandra, or as consistent as Zenyatta,
but in an era of great fillies and mares, Royal Delta managed to distinguish
herself. What she was, was uniquely Royal Delta, and that says more than
enough. From a young filly, to a seasoned mare, she was a star. Elegant and
classy, she earned her place among the great horses of her generation. One that
future young stars can be compared to. I look forward to voting for her entry into
Racing’s Hall of Fame, and I plan on cheering loudly for her on induction day.
news of her passing was both shocking and sad. It’s always hurts to lose a
great horse, but especially so, when it is one as young as Royal Delta. I cannot imagine what her connections are going through right now. Giving
birth is a mother’s calling, and for Royal Delta, it was her final calling. We
can only hope that her surviving foal, a daughter by Galileo, becomes a shining legacy to her very special mother. I
remember you … Royal Delta