07/20/2013 9:30PM

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.

Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Both Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar were ultra impressive on Saturday. They also benefitted from favorable pace scenarios. As dominant as they were, the competition simply wasn't there. It'll get tougher as we move forward.
Albert More than 1 year ago
Sylmar's win off the layoff might have been a new top for her; possibly leading to a bounce. We will see.
Clinton Blake More than 1 year ago
I've become a HUGE fan of Sylmar. Watched her perform over the inner this winter and couldn't believe a horse of such quality chose to stay here rather than gulfstream. And I think if you could corner Todd in a private moment and of the 're Ord he'd admit that he's been surprised by her success.
Ceil Rock More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan of Princess of Sylmar, too. She is a tiny little thing, but has such a huge heart.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Yes, much can still change the rest of the year. Back in 2011, Blind Luck won arguably the race of the year in the Del Cap to cement her dominance over rival Havre de Grace. Blind Luck, with 3 straight graded stakes wins in Kentucky, California, and Delaware, was the summer leader for the Eclipse. However, Blind Luck went off form and never won another race while Havre de Grace defeated males in the Woodward and then crushed Royal Delta in the Beldame to take the Older Female Eclipse as well as Horse of the Year(even though only ran 4th in BC Classic). Royal Delta, Hall of Fame good in many a big race but frustratingly average in others, would appear to have a much stronger hold of the division than Blind Luck for the simple fact that there doesn't seem to be a Havre de Grace type to contend with. As for the 3 year old fillies, Princess of Sylmar shuld defintiely be considered the pro-tem leader, but only by the narrow neck by which she beat Beholder in the Kentucky Oaks. Beholder had already won 2 grade 1s on the year going into the Oaks, and ran a brave race in defeat that day. Further grade 1 wins by her or Close Hatches could tilt the voting.
Anil More than 1 year ago
Hopefully we can see them face off in the BC Ladies Classic.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Actually, after Royal Delta's tour-de-force at 10f in the Delaware H, her folks should be considering a run in the BC Classic. Her runs in Dubai against males were not so bad that one ought conclude she can't take on males; many US horses haven't reproduced their form on the Tapeta at Meydan, unlike when the races were at Nad-al-Sheba. A run in the Goodwood (I refuse to use Frankie's ridiculous names) would set her up nicely for a run at the Classic.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Royal Delta would have serious problems with the speed of Fort Larned and Game on Dude. Figures and pace analysis suggests she's 4-6 lengths inferior to those horses. The field for the Classic would have to shrink and weaken between now and November for her to stand a realistic chance. The Game on Dude of 2013 is much better than the Game on Dude that beat Havre de Grace in the 2011 Classic, and Fort Larned's at least Game on Dude's equal. Additionally, since Mott is the trainer of Flat Out and Ron the Greek, he should know exactly how Royal Delta stacks up against the top males. I find it telling that he hasn't tried Royal Delta stateside against elite males; if Mott thought she could win, I think he would have taken a shot by now.
Brian More than 1 year ago
There is almost no reason to think that RD can be competitive in the Classic. She seems best on the lead these days and, as Jordan points out, she would need to battle some very talented older males for the lead and probably couldn't get it, that is without having to try very, very hard. She should point for and win the Distaff (I'm old school like that) and then I assume she'll go be a mama - hopefully no Dubai again. If they really want to try her against males, maybe the Clark after the BC.
Ceil Rock More than 1 year ago
Biggest question would be which horse Mike Smith rides - Game On Dude or Royal Delta. This is going to come up before the BC Classic - on Aug. 26 to be exact. RD's next start is at Saratoga in the Personal Ensign. Game On Dude is scheduled to run in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar the same day. Hopefully, one of them will change plans.