09/26/2013 3:30PM

Belmont Park: Royal Delta has speed edge over Princess of Sylmar in Beldame


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ELMONT, N.Y. – On paper, it appears to be a sexy matchup. The 5-year-old mare Royal Delta, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, versus Princess of Sylmar, the leader of the 3-year-old filly division, in Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame Invitational at Belmont Park.

But given how Belmont’s main track is tending to favor front-running horses, it seems like it will take a Herculean effort from Princess of Sylmar – winner of the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Alabama – to catch two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Royal Delta in the 1 1/8-mile Beldame.

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Princess of Sylmar, understands what his filly is up against, but said he will instruct jockey Javier Castellano not to alter Princess of Sylmar’s running style, noting how that worked against her when she finished second to Close Hatches in the Grade 2 Gazelle, her only loss this year.

“That’s going to be really important that Javier understand that and not take her out of her own style,” Pletcher said. “What we got to hope is the last eighth of a mile, last sixteenth of a mile is that Royal Delta comes back to us a little bit.

“Obviously, we can be helped by someone showing some initiative early, but if they don’t do it we’ll let our filly run our race and hope for the best.”

Six horses were entered in the Beldame, a Win and You’re In race for the $2 million Distaff, to be run Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. Lady Cohiba, one of two potential early-speed types, could scratch, trainer Christophe Clement said. That would leave Roman Invader as potentially the other horse to put pressure on Royal Delta.

[BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Win and You’re In schedule and results]

Roman Invader, who will break from the rail under Junior Alvarado, does not appear to be as fast as On Fire Baby, who outfooted Royal Delta early in last month’s Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga, a race Royal Delta won by 4 1/2 lengths.

Trainer Bill Mott said his instructions to jockey Mike Smith will be just let Royal Delta get away from the gate the way she naturally does, which means she’ll most likely be in front.

“Don’t take it away from her I guess is the best way to put it,” Mott said.

Still, Mott said he isn’t taking anything for granted. Twice in her career, Royal Delta has been beaten as an odds-on favorite, including three starts back in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs where she was 1-5.

“I have a lot of respect for everyone else in there,” Mott said. “There’s no such thing as a slam dunk; I’m not taking it for granted. I think she’s doing well. I think she’s as good as she’s been, but they’ve got to run the race.”

While Royal Delta is likely headed back for a chance to three-peat in the Distaff, Princess of Sylmar is unlikely to go on to that race, her connections have said. She is not nominated and it would cost $100,000 to supplement.

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Centring, third to Royal Delta in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, is adding blinkers for this race. And Why Not, third to Royal Delta in the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap in July, completes the field of expected starters.

The Beldame will go as race 5 on the 11-race program.