07/19/2012 3:22PM

Delaware: Royal Delta better prepared for Delaware Handicap rematch with Awesome Maria

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Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
Royal Delta regained her good form in last month's Fleur de Lis Handicap and has a good shot to win another big race in Saturday's Delaware Handicap.

Bill Mott was not at all surprised when his Royal Delta was beaten by Awesome Maria in the Grade 3 Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February.

The Hall of Fame trainer has greater expectations Saturday when Royal Delta squares off against Awesome Maria and five others in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.

[DELAWARE HANDICAP: Get PPs and watch the full card live]

The Delaware Handicap, a 1 1/4-mile race, offers the winner an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic as part of the Win and You’re In program.

Royal Delta won last year’s Ladies’ Classic, a result that earned her the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding 3-year-old filly.

When Benjamin Leon bought Royal Delta for $8.5 million at auction following the Breeders’ Cup, an early objective for 2012 was the $10 million Dubai World Cup, a 1 1/4-mile race over a synthetic Meydan surface in March. Mott used the Sabin as a prep and didn’t have Royal Delta fully cranked. Awesome Maria was coming off an eight-month layoff herself, but was razor sharp in winning by eight lengths, her sixth straight victory.

Royal Delta finished ninth in the Dubai World Cup but came back in grand style, winning the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs by eight lengths on June 16. Her she ran a full second faster than did the boys in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster one race later.

“You never really expect a performance like that,” Mott said. “We were coming back from Dubai and hoping to get back to the winner’s circle. We went back to Churchill Downs because it was proven ground and thought it would be a good place to start over and make a good effort to get on the winning path again. She did that and even more.”

Since the race, Royal Delta has continued to train exceptionally well. In addition to that, she is proven at the 1 1/4-mile distance having won the Alabama by 5 1/2 lengths at Saratoga last year.

“That’s something I don’t have to worry about,” said Mott, who will have Mike Smith to ride from the rail.

Royal Delta is the 124-pound highweight, spotting three pounds to Awesome Maria and as much as 10 pounds to 2011 Obeah Handicap runner-up Tiz Miz Sue and Ogden Phipps runner-up Cash for Clunkers.

Awesome Maria had her six-race winning streak snapped when she finished third as the 3-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont on May 28. Trainer Todd Pletcher said he felt that her training was compromised by some wet weather in between starts.

Awesome Maria has trained very well since the Phipps, which is one reason why Pletcher chose the Delaware Handicap over a race like the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth next weekend.

“She gives me the impression she’s at the top of her game,” said Pletcher, who has won the Delaware Handicap four times. “It’s still a tough challenge, but she’s doing well. Always consistently runs well. I expect her to do the same.”

Though Awesome Maria has never run 1 1/4 miles, Pletcher doesn’t see the distance as problematic.

“I’ve never been concerned watching the end of her mile and an eighth races that it would be an issue,” Pletcher said.

Pletcher also has Love and Pride entered in the Delaware Handicap and said her presence ensures that Cash for Clunkers – a game second to It’s Tricky in the Phipps – won’t get loose on the lead.

“We’ll let our filly run her race and put her in the best position to try and win it, but at the same time it’s going to keep Cash for Clunkers from walking the dog,” Pletcher said.

Tiz Miz Sue, second to Havre de Grace in last year’s Grade 3 Obeah at Delaware, has a 4-2-0 record from 6 starts at Delaware. Pachattack was second in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at 1 1/4 miles last year. Daring Reality completes the field.

The Delaware Handicap is one of three stakes on the program along with the $100,000 Sussex on turf and the $50,000 Dashing Beauty, a six-furlong sprint.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the race record of Tiz Miz Sue. She was second in the 2011 Obeah Handicap, not the 2011 Delaware Handicap.