07/20/2013 8:30PM

Champions In Waiting? Perhaps


I’m not sure that in the history of divisional championships in our sport, many titles were ever won in the summer. Oh sure, there have been special circumstances when there have been championships earned this time of year, or even a little earlier, such as when we have a Triple Crown winner, or a compelling winner of two legs of the Triple Crown. But for the most part, championships have usually been clinched in the fall, and the Breeders’ Cup has only served to solidify that.

It is with that in mind, I think, that one should view the big victories Saturday by Royal Delta in the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park, and by Princess of Sylmar in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. These wins went a long way toward advancing the divisional title candidacies of Royal Delta, who is bidding to win an Eclipse Award for a third straight year, and Princess of Sylmar. Saturday’s victories might well prove to be the ones that propelled these two over the top. But while Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar are enviably positioned at this moment in the older female and 3-year-olds filly divisions, respectively, nothing is really decided. Not just yet.

But Royal Delta sure does look good right now, even if her second straight Del ‘cap score was only her second win, and first Grade 1 victory, of the year. Her performance was important not because of who she beat (four intrepid but seriously overmatched opponents), or how she did it (by almost 11 lengths in front-running fashion). It was important because it removed the bad taste left by Royal Delta’s empty effort in last month’s Fleur de Lis in her first start back after another unsuccessful attempt at the Dubai World Cup. It was important because it allayed fears that Royal Delta, who is 5 now and has traveled a lot of miles, was in decline. Someday, when Royal Delta really is done dealing, another mare will have to step up and take control of the older female division. But until then, and given the players involved at this point in time, an older female division without an in-form Royal Delta would be one in unsatisfying disarray.

As for Princess of Sylmar, when a filly such as her wins a race like the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at 38-1, it is incumbent upon her to validate that performance. (For the record, I never thought Princess of Sylmar’s Kentucky Oaks was overtly fluky. She impressed me over the winter at Aqueduct when she had no match during an imposing win streak, and when she was second in the Gazelle prior to the Kentucky Oaks, she was pace and trip-compromised.) But her much-the-best six length win Saturday in the CCA Oaks went above and beyond what she had to do to confirm her Kentucky Oaks. If there was any doubt, everyone now knows that Princess of Sylmar is the real deal.

What is especially interesting is that Princess of Sylmar did what she did Saturday off a designed layoff of 2 ½ months. It is hard not to think that with the benefit of Saturday’s outing, Princess of Sylmar will be extra tough in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga on Aug. 17. Victories in the Kentucky Oaks and CCA Oaks go a long way toward a profile match of the traditional 3-year-old filly champion. But if Princess of Sylmar wins the Alabama, then we could be entering special circumstances territory. It would take some amazing work in the fall by someone else to deny a divisional title to a filly who won the Kentucky Oaks, and the CCA Oaks, and the Alabama.