Let’s get ready to rumble!!!
A quick flashback to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Friday at Churchill Downs, saw two young fillies go to the head of their three-year old class with a 1-2 finish against older in the BC Ladies’ Classic. The girls in question were of course the impressive winner, Royal Delta, and the consistent runner-up, It’s Tricky. Now less than ten months later, the two are considered the top two older fillies in the country and look to square off for the first time in 2012 in Sunday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign. Last year the two met three times with the Breeders’ Cup serving as the rubber match after It’s Tricky scored in the Coaching Club American Oaks, while Royal Delta romped home in the Alabama. Both of the latter two races took place at Saratoga, and that seems like as good as place as any to renew their rivalry. The devastating 5 ½ length win in the Alabama last summer helped launch Royal Delta on her way to an Eclipse Award as Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, and also plays a part in her being a clear 4-5 favorite on the morning line on Sunday. Despite being pegged the 124 highweight in the 1 1/8 mile, handicap affair, Bill Mott has no qualms in running his champion back at the Spa.
“We’re happy to give [Royal Delta] another chance back in Saratoga, where she won the Alabama,” said the Hall of Fame trainer. “She seems to be doing fine here and we hope she repeats from a year ago.”
Mott retained his star after the filly went up for auction last fall, and was snapped up for the princessly sum of $8.5 million at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale by Benjamin Leon of Besilu Stables. After starting the year 0 for 2, for her new owner, including a failed attempt in the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup, Royal Delta has been in great form back in the States. First she trounced her Grade 2 Fleur de Lis foes in June and then was game as could be while holding off Tiz Miz Sue despite giving tons of weight in the Delaware Handicap last time.
“She had to work at it [in the Delaware Handicap], without a doubt,” said Mott. “She had to work early and hang on late. With the difference in weight [nine pounds] she gave to the second horse, she ran quite well. She’s doing well and she’s proven in the past she can run well over this racetrack. She’s high weight, and I suppose she deserves to be.”
Royal Delta will break from post 4 on Sunday with Mike Smith on board. Three places to her inside will be her primary challenger and old friend, It’s Tricky. The 2-1 morning-line second choice for the Personal Ensign, has been untouchable so far this season while not facing the likes of Royal Delta. She began her four-year-old season with a pair of wins at Aqueduct, including a 2 ¾-length win in the Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap in March and a 3 ½-length romp in the seven panel Distaff Handicap in April. Her only race since came when she methodically wore down Cash for Clunkers to take the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on May 28 at Belmont. She has been training sharply for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin in preparation for the showdown with her top rival.
“We have her coming back at 1 1/8 miles, and she hasn’t raced in three months,” noted McLaughlin. “Hopefully we’ll have her tight enough. She’s training well and is coming into the race in great shape. We’re ready to go.”
In tipping his plans for the race just a bit, McLaughlin went on to say, “We might have a slight pace edge over Royal Delta. Being that we’re in the one hole, we’ll be forwardly placed. There will probably be one or two outside who will go out and clear us. We’ll see if they can. We’ll let [jockey] Eddie [Castro] sort it out.”
While the Personal Ensign promises to be one of the best showdowns so far this year, there are four other mares that will attempt to break up the game, and each have the credentials to possibly do just that. Tiz Miz Sue, Love and Pride, Brushed by a Star, and R Gypsy Gold are the four, but in reality, if the top two do their thing, it should strictly be a two filly race. Let’s get it on!