02/18/2013 10:15AM

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.