08/24/2012 3:39PM

Saratoga: Personal Ensign showdown pits Royal Delta vs. It's Tricky

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Tom Keyser
It’s Tricky will make her first start since winning the Ogden Phipps on May 28 in Sunday's Personal Ensign.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – They have combined to win 15 of 24 starts, 10 graded stakes, and accrued $3.7 million in purses. One is the champion 3-year-old filly of 2011; the other is undefeated in three starts this year.

As far as head-to-head matchups in racing go these days, Sunday’s showdown between Royal Delta and It’s Tricky in the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign Invitational Handicap at Saratoga is about as good as it gets. The Personal Ensign is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic to be run Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. The Personal Ensign winner gets her entry fees paid and a $10,000 travel stipend.

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Royal Delta defeated It’s Tricky in last year’s Alabama here and in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic in November at Churchill Downs to secure the championship in the 3-year-old filly division. After dropping her first two starts this year – one being the Dubai World Cup in March – Royal Delta has come back with a blowout win in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill and a gutty neck victory in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap last month at Delaware Park.

Royal Delta, trained by Bill Mott, had a wide trip at Delaware and appeared to be laboring a little due to either an early move or dislike for the surface. Yet she fought back when Tiz Miz Sue came to her in the stretch.

“Tiring but classy enough to hold on,” Mott said, in summing up the performance. “I don’t think that filly was ever going to get by her, which is an interesting thing to find out. A lot of times a horse can blow by you if they’re full of run, but if they run to you and you can fend them off that shows you something.”

Run at 1 1/4 miles from 1995-2011, the Personal Ensign has been shortened this year to 1 1/8 miles, something that is likely to bring It’s Tricky and Royal Delta closer together.

“I would prefer it was the old distance, but I think we still are effective at the mile and an eighth,” Mott said.

It’s Tricky has been effective from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, including defeating Royal Delta by seven lengths in the Coaching Club American Oaks here at 1 1/8 miles last year. It’s Tricky has gone 3 for 3 this year, winning twice at 1 1/16 miles, including the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont on May 28.

That was her last start, which means she will have 91 days between races.

“Sometimes I feel like ‘Oh shoot, it’s been a while, they might need a run,’ but it’s one of our better stats with a little bit of time – and she trains aggressively,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains It’s Tricky. “Hopefully, we don’t get tired. I think we’re ready and don’t have any excuses.”

It’s Tricky breaks from the rail under Eddie Castro and has two other speed horses right to her outside in Brushed by a Star and Love and Pride. Though trainer Todd Pletcher is removing blinkers from Love and Pride’s equipment on Sunday, he still anticipates her being on the lead.

“Just trying to change something up,” Pletcher said. “We’re still going to be, I imagine, the pacesetter. Hopefully, she’ll settle a little bit more.”

Pletcher will also send out R Gypsy Gold, who finished third in the Molly Pitcher. She is owned Joyce Robsham, who earlier this month retired Awesome Maria, who would have been a contender in here.

Brushed by a Star won the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth in front-running fashion, but trainer Grant Forster doesn’t expect her to be on the lead Sunday.

“If Love and Pride runs we’re probably laying second early to her,” said Grant Forster, trainer of Brushed by a Star. “She’s never super quick from the gate, but she’s a really steady-running filly. She doesn’t have any great acceleration at any point. She just kind of runs them off their feet and keeps going and going.”

Tiz Miz Sue shipped to Saratoga twice last summer, finishing third to Ask the Moon in the Personal Ensign when it was 1 1/4 miles. She also finished third in the Ruffian, a race no longer run here, but was disqualified to fourth.