01/19/2013 9:45PM

Eclipse Award winner Royal Delta: Champion is hard to flaw—on the track and on pedigree

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Empire Maker, sire of champion Royal Delta, winning the 2003 Belmont Stakes

If money truly talks, what could it tell us about Royal Delta, a $3.7 million earner and $8.5 million auction purchase? It would probably say that she is the best racemare of her generation and the second-hottest broodmare prospect in the history of Thoroughbred breeding (behind only $9-million dual champion Ashado). But we knew that anyway.

So why the astronomical bucks? Buyer Benjamin Leon, Jr. used terms like “big, “strong,” “beautiful,” and “fast” in trying to describe Royal Delta, now a two-time champion with an express pass to the Racing Hall of Fame. Yet there’s more. The young mare in question also happens to boast a sleek couture pedigree—a family tree with class hanging heavy like kudzu from every branch and twig. So, add “impeccable bloodlines” to an adoring owner’s string of high-praise adjectives, and you’ve got the whole package, the real deal, maybe even “The One.”

Royal Delta is part of a Grade 1-winning distaff septet for the stallion Empire Maker, along with Grace Hall, Acoma, In Lingerie, Muskha, Icon Project, and Country Star. Empire Maker’s glistening credentials were analyzed last week at DRF Breeding by John Sparkman. To avoid redundancy, we will simply recall the spot-on lyrics of songwriter Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” Empire Maker is two years gone to the Land of the Rising Sun, and he was the world’s most successful sire of 2012.

On the female side, Royal Delta’s may not be the most power-packed family dwelling between the covers of the American Stud Book, but it can surely strut its stuff down any high-fashion genetic catwalk on the planet.

The current champion’s dam, Delta Princess, was a graded stakes winner by one of the great sires of the modern era, A.P. Indy. Her second dam is European group winner Lyphard’s Delta, who was designated by Timeform as England’s second-best middle-distance (9 1/2-to-11 furlongs) sophomore filly of 1999, and and later produced Grade 1 winner Indy Five Hundred and Group 1 winner and 2013 first-year stallion Biondetti.

Then comes Proud Delta, a grand American racemare of the mid-1970s and champion of her division in 1976. One must travel back in time some 50 years and four generations to find a mare in the dam-line who flopped on the track—and even then, Loving Sister managed to foal three significant stakes winners.

A number of the mares in this branch are intriguing, in one way or another. For example, fifth dam Nimble Doll broke her maiden first time out in 1954, roaring hell-bent down the Widener straight course at Belmont Park to defeat a host of 27 bumping, careening, caroming, swerving, freaked-out rival fillies, each as green as a Granny Smith apple—a sight never seen today. Seventh dam Princess Camelia, a stakes winner good enough to chase racing legend Top Flight in the 1931 Arlington Lassie, was curiously inscribed in the stud book as an “iron gray.”

Best and most interesting of all was Royal Delta’s third dam, Proud Delta, bred in 1972 by Daniel and Ada Rice’s famed Danada Farm, the product of a cross between accomplished early 1960s racehorse Delta Judge and an Olympia mare who couldn’t run a scrap.

Proud Delta—and every other filly in the 1972 foal crop, but one—had the misfortune to appear at the same time, on the same stage as a genuine once-in-an-eon superstar. While Ruffian sucked the air out of every space she entered, others of her sex generally scrapped for what they could find elsewhere. Proud Delta’s path crossed Ruffian’s only once, and that was quite enough—in the 1975 Comely Stakes in which she was spanked quite thoroughly by the big, near-black filly.

About ten weeks later, Ruffian would die in one of racing’s great tragedies. What the future would have held for her is unknowable, but it is possible had she lived to run another year she might have found a worthy rival in Proud Delta, who bloomed late.

When Dan Rice died, his wife gave up on racing. Danada’s homebred stock, cultivated through generations of careful planning, was auctioned off in the fall of 1976, under a tent in the Belmont Park infield. It was there that noted horsewoman and First Lady of American steeplechasing, Mrs. Marion duPont Scott, took notice of the tall, stately Proud Delta and was smitten. Scott’s words of praise for her $250,000 acquisition would be echoed by Leon 35 years later. “I like a large mare, and she is a large mare,” she explained. “It’s hard to get a horse as sound and good-looking as Proud Delta. You hardly find them anymore, so I am delighted to have her.”

Proud Delta rewarded Mrs. DuPont by winning six 1976 stakes, including the Grade 1 Beldame and Top Flight Handicap, and an Eclipse Award. And she more than earned back her hefty purchase price. Retired after three seasons, 31 starts, 12 wins, and earnings of $387,762, Proud Delta eventually produced seven winners from eight starters, including two of grade/group quality … but nothing quite like herself. That task was left to her daughter, the aforementioned Lyphard’s Delta, who as granddam of Royal Delta has linked this family so “proudly” into the future.

To read more about Royal Delta's Eclipse Award-winning season, click here.