06/14/2012 3:07PM

Churchill Downs: Is Royal Delta ready to regain form in Fleur de Lis?

Barbara D. Livingston
Last year's champion 3-year-old filly Royal Delta will make her first start since an unsuccessful trip to Dubai in Saturday night's Fleur de Lis Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The last time Royal Delta raced at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic on Nov. 4, no one could contend with her, and she romped by 2 1/2 lengths, defeating such standout mares as It’s Tricky, Pachattack, and Plum Pretty.

Matched against a lesser field Saturday evening in the Grade 2, $150,000 Fleur De Lis Handicap on the Stephen Foster undercard at Churchill, an effort even remotely close to her Breeders’ Cup performance should result in an easy, short-priced victory.

If she is upset against short field comprised of St. John’s River, Sterling Madame, Distorted Love, and It’s Tea Time – it will likely be the result of Royal Delta running less than her best. She has lost half of her 10 starts, and returns after being out of action since a ninth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup March 31.

“They don’t run the same every time,” said Andy Leggio, trainer of St. John’s River. “If we knew she’d run how she’s capable, we’d probably get beat, but we don’t know that.”

If Royal Delta is defeated, trainer Bill Mott isn’t going to use to the trip to Dubai as an excuse.

“She’s a young filly, never been heavily raced, and seems like she’s handled it very well,” he said.

A series of promising works at Belmont Park, including three bullet breezes, seemingly provide further evidence that Royal Delta is in race-ready condition. Last fall her training was also exceptional prior to her winning the Ladies’ Classic, which capped a year in which she also won the Alabama and Black-Eyed Susan.

She is winless in two races this year, since being purchased for $8.5 million by Benjamin Leon’s Besilu Stables at Keeneland shortly after the Breeders’ Cup last year. In addition to her World Cup loss, she ran a distant second in the Grade 3 Sabin behind Awesome Maria on Feb. 25 in a prep for her trip to Dubai.

Mike Smith, who teamed with Mott to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year with Drosselmeyer, rides Royal Delta, replacing Jose Lezcano.

St. John’s River, last year’s Delaware Oaks winner and Kentucky Oaks runner-up, is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line behind Royal Delta at 4-5. She rallied to be second behind Juanita in the Grade 2 La Troienne under regular rider Rosie Napravnik when returning from over an eight-month layoff May 4.