11/01/2013 8:04PM

Breeders' Cup: For Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar, an unfortunate end to a fine season

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Bill Mott (right) with Royal Delta after her fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. A decision on whether she will race next year will be made in a couple of weeks, Mott said.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The two beasts of the East, Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar, faded away in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff as gently as the late-afternoon sunshine slipping from the Southern California sky.

With a half-mile to run in the Distaff, Royal Delta, a two-time champion and two-time Breeders’ Cup winner, already had started losing position. She finished fourth. Princess of Sylmar, so special winning the Kentucky Oaks, the Alabama, and the Beldame, barely got out of a gallop, checking in last of six.

Take nothing away from either horse – each has been wonderful -- but for both, defeat had a cost. What might have been the last start of 5-year-old Royal Delta’s career turned out to be the worst dirt race she ever has run.

[BREEDERS' CUP FRIDAY: Video replays and race results]

Princess of Sylmar’s owner-breeder, Edward Stanco, had seriously considered calling a halt to his filly’s campaign after she beat Royal Delta in the Beldame last month. A win in the Distaff would have thrust her into Horse of the Year talk. Instead, Beholder’s emphatic victory Friday might have stolen the 3-year-old filly crown away from Princess of Sylmar.

Stanco had keenly watched the day’s main-track races. London Bridge rallied from well behind the leaders to win the Marathon, but that 2 1/2-circuit navigation of the Santa Anita main track is too unusual to fit comfortably into the pattern of race shapes Friday.

Front-runners dominated the other main-track races. Stanco, whose horse wins her races in their second half, had noticed.

“I’ve been watching the races," Stanco said as the Distaff field left the paddock for the racetrack. "I’ve been paying attention. I know it’s a speed-favoring track. Good horses can overcome that. She’s never been touched in a Grade 1 race. No one has gotten close to her.”

Probably it was not just the racetrack that beat Princess of Sylmar. She was making her eighth start of the year. Those crushing victories looked easy, but this is the time of year they take their toll.

For Princess of Sylmar, 2014 will offer a chance at redemption; her connections have said they intend to race her next year. Nothing is official yet, but Royal Delta turns 6 on Jan. 1. There’s a decent chance we’ve seen her long, elegant frame dance onto the track for the last time.

“That’s something that won’t be decided for a couple weeks,” said Bill Mott, who trains Royal Delta for owner Benjamin Leon.

Mott’s disappointment after the Distaff played only around the corners of his face. He has been in too many big races to be shocked by unanticipated failure.

“I thought she worked very well coming into this race,” he said.

True, Royal Delta wowed clockers with her effortless display of morning speed on multiple mornings in the weeks after her Beldame loss and before the Distaff. She was favored to win her third Distaff – and become the only horse to do so – and Mott had used the Beldame merely to prep in the past. But all year, tiny cracks had showed in Royal Delta’s armor, if you looked hard enough to see them. Friday’s was her 22nd start. She twice had traveled to Dubai. It was two long years ago that she won the Distaff – then the Ladies' Classic – for the first time.

“I’ve been very lucky to have been around quite a few good horses," Mott said. "It’s always been very difficult to come back and have that third year."

A year ago, Royal Delta skipped to the lead on a speed-favoring track here and controlled affairs from the start. Mike Smith told Mott today he asked Royal Delta for a little more on the first turn and got no response.

“Maybe it’s time for her now,” Mott said. “Maybe it’s time.”