10/17/2012 3:47PM

Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic: Return to World Cup planned for Royal Delta

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Kim Pratt
Royal Delta was 4 for 7 in 2011, including a win in the Ladies' Classic at Churchill Downs.

Victory over an outstanding field in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic might not be the crowning achievement for the favorite.

Royal Delta has been there, done that. And she is not done yet, according to owner Benjamin Leon.

“As long as she stays healthy, we should be able to get another good year of enjoyment of her,” Leon said this week from London. “So I intend to race her next year, also.”

Why not? Royal Delta, 4, is better than ever in the eyes of Leon and trainer Bill Mott. “She’s more mature mentally, she’s got more racing experience,” Mott said. “I thought she was good physically last year. Maybe she has broadened out a little bit as a 4-year-old.”

Royal Delta was very good in 2011. She won four of seven including the Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs, and was voted champion 3-year-old filly. Days after the Breeders’ Cup, Leon outbid Frank Stronach at the Keeneland November sale and purchased Royal Delta for $8.5 million from the estate of Prince Saud bin Khaled.

[BREEDERS' CUP 2012: DRF top 10 lists, video replays, latest news]

“She has it all,” Leon said. “She’s beautiful, she has excellent conformation, she has tremendous racing ability, plus she is backed up with a tremendous pedigree. Down the road, she should be an excellent broodmare.”

Down the road is still more than a year away. Leon, founder of Leon Medical Centers in Florida, is establishing a breeding operation in that state to complement his racing stable, Besilu Stables.

But when he purchased Royal Delta last fall, the 3-year-old by Empire Maker had started only eight times. She still had plenty of racing ahead, including an ambitious goal of the 2012 Dubai World Cup.

That did not work out so well. Royal Delta finished ninth. The setback did not temper Leon’s confidence. “The race in Dubai, she had a very bad trip,” he said. “If she would have had a good trip, I think she would have had a shot at winning that race.

“I still think she does,” Leon emphasized. The 2013 target: Dubai.

“Next year she will be 5 years old, she will be more experienced and she will be stronger. It’s the opportunity for her to become part of history, to be the very first female to win the World Cup in Dubai,” Leon said. “After that, we’ll take it one step at a time.”

Based on a stellar summer-fall 2012 campaign, few would quarrel with another Dubai attempt. After returning this spring, in her first start with jockey Mike Smith, Royal Delta romped by eight lengths in Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs.

Royal Delta followed with a narrow victory in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap, carrying nine pounds more than the runner-up. She was subsequently compromised by weight at Saratoga. Carrying 10 pounds more than Love and Pride in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, Royal Delta missed by a half-length.

“Does a pound or two make a difference? It might not make a lot of difference,” Mott said. “But when you start giving 10 pounds away, and carrying 124, it does make a little difference.”

Carrying equal weights Sept. 29 in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park, Royal Delta exploded. She scored a 9 1/2-length crusher, in an effort that might have made Royal Delta one of the favorites for the BC Classic.

The appeal of the Classic was easy for Leon to resist. It was not part of his plan, at least not this year. “It’s a business plan,” he said.

“That’s one of the reasons why Royal Delta, even though it is tempting, is not running in the Classic this year. We just have to patient.

“If she is healthy and all the stars line up, maybe we will see her in the Classic [in 2013].”

Before that, Royal Delta will try to become only the second repeat winner in the history of the Ladies’ Classic. Bayakoa in 1989-90 is the only two-time winner of the race, formerly known as the Distaff.

Royal Delta will face an outstanding 2012 field in which all seven likely starters are Grade 1 winners. Awesome Feather, owned by Royal Delta underbidder Stronach, is expected to start as second choice.

Awesome Feather has won all 10 of her starts, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2010. Stronach purchased her for $2.3 million that fall.

Love and Pride is the only candidate with Grade 1 victories on both coasts. She is trained by Todd Pletcher, with whom Leon previously was affiliated. After Royal Delta was sold, there was speculation Royal Delta would be trained by Pletcher. Leon kept her with Mott.

In addition to Royal Delta, Mott trains a bevy of 2-year-olds for Leon. Mott said there is no rush.

“The basic understanding I have from him is that the welfare of the horse comes first, and he doesn’t mind how patient you are,” Mott said. “For me, any time the owner has the welfare of the horse above and beyond anything else, it makes my job really easy.”

So far so good, thanks mostly to Royal Delta, who has won eight races and more than $2.6 million from 14 starts.

While preparing Royal Delta for her second Ladies’ Classic, Mott was reminded that his four previous winners of the Ladies’ Classic/Distaff entered after losing their final prep.

Royal Delta won her prep by more than nine lengths.

“It makes me a little more nervous this time,” Mott joked.

His previous winners were Royal Delta in 2011, Unrivaled Belle in 2010, Escena in 1998, and Ajina in 1997.

Royal Delta is scheduled to breeze this weekend at Belmont Park, post one more work the following week, and ship to California on Oct. 29.

It will be another road trip for the country’s top filly and her owner. “I’ve been to every one of her races since I purchased her,” Leon said.

And there is more to look forward to in 2013.