Race of the Week 2017

Ron the Greek, Royal Delta Return to Churchill Downs

Two 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 Park. 
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 Anita.
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 with her.”
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.


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Champion Royal Delta and defending Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) winner Ron the Greek galloped at Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning after visiting the paddock under Rudolph Brisset. Royal Delta was on the track at 6 a.m. and Ron the Greek trained at 6:30 a.m. “They both went over the track great and seem to be doing very well,” said Kenny McCarthy, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

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