Updated on 11/05/2012 5:30PM

Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic: Royal Delta turns back all challengers, gives Smith record win

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Tom Keyser
Royal Delta scores a front-running victory in the BC Ladies' Classic under jockey Mike Smith.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The best horse won the best race on Breeders’ Cup Friday at Santa Anita, and she did it surprising fashion.

Royal Delta ($5.40) became the second filly or mare to win the Ladies’ Classic in consecutive years with a heads-up ride from Mike Smith, whose 16th Breeders’ Cup win makes him the all-time Breeders’ Cup leader.

[BREEDERS' CUP 2012: Friday results and video replays]

Smith’s tactics contributed to Royal Delta’s victory in a race that unfolded strangely when the expected pacesetter Questing failed to show her speed and ultimately was eased.

Smith allowed Royal Delta to make the lead into the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile race, and the 4-year-old did the rest. She set a fast pace over a speed-favoring track, shook off every challenge, and won by 1 1/2 lengths over My Miss Aurelia. It was another 1 1/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Include Me Out.

The main track Friday was kind to front-runners, and Smith was aware of that.

“That was definitely on my mind,” he said. “The track definitely favors speed.”

Bill Mott trains Royal Delta for owner Benjamin Leon, who purchased Royal Delta last fall for $8.5 million after she won the 2011 Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs. The 2012 Ladies’ Classic could be her last. Leon and Mott speculated that in 2013 she could try the $5 million BC Classic, after first giving the Dubai World Cup another try.

“She’s a filly that gets better as the year goes on,” Mott said. “If there was one to shoot for the moon with, it might be one like her.”

The Ladies’ Classic was considered the strongest of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup races, with seven Grade 1 winners, two champions and two unbeaten fillies. Awesome Feather and My Miss Aurelia both suffered their first loss.

Questing was expected to set the pace, but when she showed no early interest, Smith allowed Royal Delta to strut her stuff.

“She just jumped extremely well today,” Smith said. “She broke so well today that when you have a mare like her the best thing to do is let her do her thing. We were cruising right along, but she did it well within herself.”

Royal Delta usually runs from off the pace, but in the Ladies’ Classic she set the pace. She raced the opening half-mile in 45.81, and six furlongs in 1:09.80 while pressed by Love and Pride.

On the far turn, Love and Pride backed up, and into the stretch Royal Delta was handed a new challenge. My Miss Aurelia, who had a ground-saving trip under Corey Nakatani, angled outside into the lane, but could not get past the winner. Royal Delta won in 1:48.80.

Royal Delta is a strapping 4-year-old by Empire Maker, and Smith said that physically she compares to the mighty Zenyatta, whom Smith rode to victories in the Ladies’ Classic and Classic.

Royal Delta has won 9 of 15, and joins Bayakoa (1989-90) as the only two-time winner of the race.

As for runner-up My Miss Aurelia, who had raced only twice this year, her trainer Steve Asmussen was proud and disappointed. “I can’t tell you how much I admire Aurelia, but you don’t want to lose a race like that,” Asmussen said. “For her to do that with only two races, especially the way the race unfolded.”

My Miss Aurelia is expected to stay in training next year as a 4-year-old.

Grace Hall finished fourth, and is scheduled to be sold in Kentucky next week. Love and Pride finished fifth, followed by Awesome Feather, Class Included and Questing, who was eased.

Questing’s jockey Irad Ortiz said, “She didn’t want to try today.”