of the brightest stars of last year’s Stephen Foster Handicap Presented
by Abu Dhabi (Grade I) night at Churchill Downs are set to return to
the Louisville track Sunday afternoon
in search of successful encores to their 2013 heroics.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has shipped defending Foster winner Ron the Greek back to Churchill Downs in search of back-to-back wins in the evening’s main event, and Besilu Stable LLC of Benjamin
Leon Jr.’s two-time champion Royal Delta will seek a repeat in the $175,000-added Fleur De Lis Handicap Presented by Etihad Airways (GII).
Mott’s stars are scheduled to arrive in Louisville at 2:30 p.m. (all times EDT).
“They’ve run well over the racetrack
and the timing of it (Foster night) is right,” said Mott, the all-time
leader in victories (673) and stakes wins (87) at Churchill Downs, by
telephone from his base at New York’s Belmont
Royal Delta will bid to win a stakes
race at Churchill Downs in a third consecutive year. She earned the
first of her back-to-back wins in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI)
in 2011 and then scored an eight-length victory
in the 2012 Fleur De Lis. She was named champion 3-year-old filly of
2011 following her Breeders’ Cup success and earned the Eclipse Award
for the top older female after winning the 2012 Ladies’ Classic at Santa
Like last year, the Fleur De Lis will
be Royal Delta’s return to racing following a March journey to Dubai.
She finished off-the-board against males for the second consecutive year
in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) over
the synthetic Tapeta course at Meydan Race Course.
“Royal Delta’s timing is the same as
it was last year and I think we’ve got a similar amount of work in her,”
Mott said. “She’s doing well and it’s just time to go back to the races
The 5-year-old champion finished 10th to 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom
in this year’s Dubai World Cup. Her only other start of the year was a
victory in the Sabin (GIII)
at Gulfstream Park that preceded her journey to Dubai. She returns to
Churchill Downs for the Fleur De Lis with a career record of 10-3-1 in
17 races and earnings of $3,763,851.
“She looks good, she’s doing well and
I’m very happy with her,” Mott said. “I think she’s perhaps a little
bigger and stronger than last year, appearance-wise. She’s a year older
and I think she’s becoming a fully-mature horse.”
Royal Delta is in the midst of a
fourth year of competition, which is unusual in this era for a horse of
her level of accomplishment.
“Good for her and good for Mr. Leon,”
Mott said. “We all, of course, hope that it turns out to be a good
scenario in the end. I think everybody gives him a lot of credit for
keeping her going rather than retiring her after
a short career.”
Prior to shipping to Louisville,
Royal Delta breezed a half-mile in :48.23 at Belmont Park. It was the
ninth fastest work of 46 at the distance.
Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and Jack T. Hammer’s Ron the Greek upset eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan in last year’s Foster and, in the process, also downed Fort Larned, who ran a disappointing
last of eight in the Foster but rebounded to win Saratoga’s Whitney (GI) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita.
Ron the Greek ran second and fourth, respectively, in his subsequent meetings with Fort Larned.
“I guess after we beat him in the
Foster, I thought we were at least as good as he was,” Mott said. “But
he wound up beating us in both the Whitney and the Breeders’ Cup. So our
hats are off to him and we’ve got to try to
turn the tables.”
An easy victory in the Sunshine
Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park earlier this year is the only
victory for Ron the Greek in six races since last year’s Foster triumph.
The 6-year-old son of Full Mandate has raced 25 times
and has a record of 8-5-2 with earnings of $1,976,597.