10/29/2013 5:17PM

Breeders' Cup Distaff: Royal Delta needs her best to beat Princess of Sylmar, Beholder

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Barbara D. Livingston
Royal Delta (above) has ramped up her training for the Breeders' Cup Distaff in an attempt to turn the tables on Princess of Sylmar, who beat her in the Beldame.

ARCADIA, Calif. – There will be no red carpet for Royal Delta, even if she is the star of the show Friday at Santa Anita.

But wait, Royal Delta lost her final prep. So she is still mortal, still not invincible. But she still is very good, and both trainer Bill Mott and jockey Mike Smith believe Royal Delta is primed for Friday’s marquee event – the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

She will need to be. In order to win her third consecutive BC Distaff/Ladies’ Classic, Royal Delta must defeat a small, select group that includes Princess of Sylmar, whose four straight Grade 1 wins include an upset over Royal Delta last month in the Beldame.

[BREEDERS’ CUP 2013: Fields with DRF odds and comments]

Beholder has never lost a route at Santa Anita – four Grade 1’s. Her recent works have been super. Close Hatches is the only filly this year to beat Princess of Sylmar. Authenticity has an upset chance, and outsider Street Girl will pick them up late.

None is as accomplished as Royal Delta, a 12-for-21 veteran who may or may not be making the final start of her career. One thing is certain – Mott has allowed her to turn up the heat since losing the Beldame last month.

“Her works leading into the Beldame were a little slower,” Mott said. “I was thinking she could win without her ‘A’ race, but she didn’t. I don’t think she ran her best race.”

No matter. Mott and Smith already were planning for the Distaff.

“I could feel her getting a little bit tired,” Smith said. “I know when she is 100 percent and when she’s not. [Princess of Sylmar] ran a great race, but we have a lot of room to improve off that.”

Royal Delta has posted three bullet works since. Good thing, because she starts from inside pace rival Beholder. Royal Delta’s hand will be forced early. That is fine. She won the 2012 Distaff in gate-to-wire fashion. This year, Smith may let her use her speed again.

“She’s grown, she’s older, she’s more balanced and quicker on her feet,” Smith said. “By no means do I think she has to be in front, but they’re going to have to go fast to get in front of her.”

Royal Delta’s future is undetermined. Mott and owner Benjamin Leon have talked two options – retirement or a 2014 campaign. “It wouldn’t surprise me either way whatever he decides,” Mott said. “The most serious conversation will be after this race.”

There will be a 2014 campaign for a trio of upstart 3-year-olds trying to knock off the champion – Princess of Sylmar, Beholder, and Close Hatches. The second betting choice in the Distaff is likely to be Princess of Sylmar, the Kentucky Oaks winner whose season-long improvement shows no signs of letting up.

“It’s difficult to make long-term plans in this game,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Fortunately for us, she has been remarkably consistent and just gotten better and better. It doesn’t always go that way.”

Princess of Sylmar, 6 for 7 this year and 8 for 10 in her career, is owned by Ed Stanco, who put up $100,000 to make her Breeders’ Cup eligible. Pletcher described the filly as “uncomplicated” and noted a significant attribute she recently added.

“One thing she has changed, she’s put herself a little more into the race,” Pletcher said. “She’s put herself into a position that’s more tactical.”

Javier Castellano rides Princess of Sylmar, who drew post 6 and figures to get a good trip behind Royal Delta and Beholder. Princess of Sylmar galloped Tuesday over the Santa Anita track “unbelievably well,” according to Pletcher.

Santa Anita-based Beholder holds a home-court edge and is the key to the pace. Drawn outside Royal Delta, Beholder and jockey Gary Stevens are most likely to apply pressure.

Beholder, whose 7-for-10 career includes winning the BC Juvenile Fillies a year ago, has come a long way for a filly with unusual behavior. Richard Mandella trains her with ear muffs and puts sponge in her ears to avoid distractions. She does not use them in races.

“She’s like a bag of dynamite,” Mandella said. “Good horses tend to have a little more character than normal. She’s a real sweetheart, other than just wanting to goose herself and act a fool.”

The last time Beholder was on the national stage, she lost her cool behind the starting gate of the Kentucky Oaks. She unseated her jockey twice, virtually sat down on the track, then ran a bang-up second to Princess of Sylmar.

Beholder took the summer off, and when she returned Mandella focused on her fitness and behavior.

“When we brought her back in, she did try to run over the pony,” he said. “She tried it for a couple weeks. We try to take her a step at a time, and behave. Race days have gone very good.”

Authenticity and Street Girl are scheduled to be sold this fall at auction. Cotillion winner Close Hatches will race next year at age 4.