02/18/2013 11:15AM

Royal Delta, and the San Vicente


Royal Delta is a very interesting horse, and not only because she is a two-time champion, and obviously top class.

Most race horses follow a traditional career arc. Horses improve from 2 to 3 and often from 3 to 4 due more to the physical maturation process than because of racing experience, although the latter does help. Then physical maturation eventually plateaus, as does performance, and if a horse sticks around long enough, you will see inevitable decline.

Of course, many factors can have a profound effect on how all this plays out. Injury, training regimen, racing activity, and certainly the inherent characteristics of the individual horse will have a huge say in the final shape in the arc of a racing career. But you get the point.

As horseplayers, it is important to keep an eye out for the signs of a declining horse. For me, one such signal is a loss of positional speed. When a speed horse can no longer get the lead on a field he once easily could have out-quicked, or when a stalker from close range can’t get into comfortable striking position anymore, it’s a negative sign. This happens more than you might think.

Having this in mind is why I find Royal Delta so intriguing. I’m not at all suggesting that she is or should be at the start of a career decline, because even though she is 5 now, she is a 5-year-old with relatively low miles. Sunday’s Sabin Stakes, which Royal Delta won most impressively, was only her 16th career start. But what I find so interesting about her is, although she was never a downtown closer, she was always an off-the-pace performer. But as she has gotten older, she has evolved into something of a speed horse. And this is the sort of transformation you rarely see in a mature race horse.

Royal Delta’s running style really began to change last fall, and she is 3 for 3 since. Royal Delta went after what was thought to be a very dangerous opponent in It’s Tricky early in the Beldame, put that classy opponent away, and ran off to win by the length of the stretch. On a track that was favoring speed, Royal Delta quickly moved to the lead in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and led past every pole to win that event for a second straight year. And in her first start since in Sunday’s Sabin, Royal Delta again went for the lead early, showed the way though solid interior fractions, and won laughing.

This new running style might help Royal Delta when she takes another shot at the Dubai World Cup next month. Royal Delta wasn’t that far off the early pace when she finished ninth in last year’s Dubai Cup, but she was boxed in with horses in front and all around her. From that point, it’s hard to be definitive as to what happened because the camera work we get in this country of the Dubai Cup is horrendous. Still, you can see that Royal Delta was shuffled back in the run down the backstretch, and taken up sharply somewhere on the far turn. Perhaps Royal Delta’s new style will this time enable her to achieve forward early position in Dubai, and thus avoid trouble.

Sunday’s San Vicente was also interesting. It had a field of only six, but four of those six were the sort of lightly raced, immensely promising prospects that are the reason why the “All Others” option in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is always the heavy favorite.

Anyway, when the San Vicente was over, less than three lengths separated the first and last finisher, which is always cause for pause. But winner Shakin It Up and runner up Treasury Bill ran well enough to be watched closely from this point forward. Treasury Bill, in particular, has all the makings of a wise guy horse. He almost lost contact with the field early, raced much wider than Shakin It Up, and has a route pedigree (by Lemon Drop Kid, out of Menifee mare) that says he shouldn’t be running even this well in sprints such as this.

August Sams More than 1 year ago
Great comments on evolution of racing style and decline in performance. Wonder how she will fare on the lead with the "boys" like AK and Maktoum trained horses; can she battle and win? Battling the girls and boys is very different, but love Bill Mott and he would not be sending her if he did not think she was competative.
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
Royal Delta's change in style worries me just a bit. She won't always be facing fields as soft as last Sunday's. What if she wants to fight for the lead when it is disputed??
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
Shakin It Up! Shades of Silver Charm. Didn't SC win the San V., if I remember right, despite not really being a natural seven furlong runner? He was just that much superior to the field in overall ability and excelled further as the distances increased. I think your final comment about Treasury Bill may apply as much to Shakin It Up as to Treasury Bill. SIU really got my attention over the weekend. My hunch has been that Midnight Lute will prove to be an outstanding route sire, eventually.
ctgreyhound More than 1 year ago
In short Royal Delta has become multidimensional, the pinnacle for every racehorse. She is the perfect package by today's standards.
Mike More than 1 year ago
OH ONE LAST COMMENT.....she will race without Lasix.....
MICHEL More than 1 year ago
Mike: Remember Ghostzapper as I recall he was a stone cold closer and later developed into a speed horse Michel de Botton
Mike More than 1 year ago
RD was never a stone cold closer....and GZ was a very versatile horse...he could sprint and route, close from way back and go wire to wire....RD is not the same horse...If only GZ was healthy and ran longer... he would be one of the all-time greats....we hardly see horses like GZ or SeatheStars....these great thorough can sprint and route....when I mean route I mean 10 furlongs and longer when races were meant for classic distance horses instead of the milers we breed today....just because a mile might be 2 turn does not make it a route race....
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
Ghostzapper didn't really change his cruising speed. It's just that, as he finally stretched out, he naturally found himself closer to the pace in a field of distance types. The early pace of a closer in sprints is pretty close to front-running speed in routes. Consider Sun King. In routes, he was usually in the lead, at least, early in his career. In 6 1/2 to 7 f sprints, the same early speed put him in the second half of the field and he was a come-from- behind sprinter. Same cruising speed looked totally different in different contexts. GZ was so good in extended sprints, due to his overall natural talent, that it took Bobby Frankel a long time to figure out that he could be a great route horse. He might have tried it sooner, but I think GZ had a big break in his career due to injury.
Mike More than 1 year ago
Speed horses regardless of gender RARELY wins classic distance races!!
Old timer More than 1 year ago
ever hear the names Spend a Buck? War Emblem? Bold Forbes? sometimes the speed stays.
Mike More than 1 year ago
Well yes but we are discussing the DWC....maybe I did not make myself clear.....UNRESTRICTED OPEN G1 or GROUP 1 race.....on dirt or turf specially those that are the most prestigious in the world.....from 10 furlongs and up.....when I mean rarely....I mean exactly that....rarely do horses win these type of caliber races wire to wire.....Ghostzapper is the only one I can think of who did it at the Breeders classic.....
Brian Russell More than 1 year ago
Using your own example of the Dubai World Cup, Roses In May and Well Armed immediately come to mind. The problem is not speed horses, it is your memory.
Mike More than 1 year ago
Or it could be you just do not understand what the word "HARDLY" or "RARELY" wire to wire means....and now with the tapeta surface the speed dirt horses are swimming upstream....
telfe23 More than 1 year ago
The first time she went to the lead was in Delaware, and then she run awful in Saratoga, so 4 for 5 no 3 for 3 since taking the lead
akhiym james More than 1 year ago
What he is saying is that she hasn't lost a race since running the new speed style. She 3 for 3 but she did press a quick pace at Delaware and that makes here 4 for 4. Not her record of the races she's had in the last few races. She did not go to the front at Saratoga which would have helped her cause she was boxed in the while race
Tom More than 1 year ago
You will see a repeat in Dubai, Royal will not hit the board, she is over-rated.
Martin More than 1 year ago
Mike: If you want an example of a "come from behind" style horse reversing his modus operandi 180 degrees, please refer to the old charts of William Haggin Perry's "LOUD," trained by the immortal and late Hall of Famer, Frank Whitely.The incomparable horseman took a horse that raced exclusively in the last position in every race and made him a front running winner.I atribute the change in running styles to the skills of the great trainers and as in the case of ROYAL DELTA,who but Famer Sir Willam could have orchestrated the mare's racing pattern.
Mike More than 1 year ago
First off, open Grade 1 or group 1 championship races at 10 furlongs and longer is UNIVERSE away form the 8.5 and 9 furlongs stakes races we have here in the states. When you have a full field with some speed on it, RD would be against some pretty strong males....not saying she couldn't do it...but top world prestigious races at the classic distances are hardly won by speed horses......