In a year that’s been tough on Breeders’ Cup champions and Eclipse Award winners, two individual champions on Saturday afternoon showed why they were voted as Champions in 2011.
Last year, the Bill Mott trained Royal Delta won three graded stakes races including the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic en route to winning the Eclipse Award for top three year old female. After three and a half months off, she returned to action at Gulfstream Park in the Sabin Stakes (G3). She was upset by another super filly, Awesome Maria. The Todd Pletcher filly won by 8 lengths and extended her winning streak to six.
The Empire Maker filly dominated races at the longer distances of 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles in 2011. The 1 1/16 miles distance does not seem to be her specialty. After the loss in Florida, Bill Mott and owners of Besilu Stables thought enough to ship her to Dubai and run against the top male horses in the Dubai World Cup (G1). She finished a distant 9th. She was given another two and a half months off before heading to Churchill Downs in June. She easily won the Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) against lesser competition.
Saturday afternoon at Delaware Park, she would get a rematch with Awesome Maria in the Delaware Handicap (G2). The race was set to go 1 1/4 miles on the dirt. After early brisk fractions from Love and Pride, Awesome Maria made an early move first to sit in second as they approached the far turn. Royal Delta made her move soon after. It appeared as if everyone would get the race they all had hoped for. It didn’t materialize the way everyone had thought. However, they still received a phenomenal stretch run, it just didn’t include one of the top fillies. As they turned for home, Awesome Maria slowly faded and local horse Tiz Miz Sue would be the one to make a serious run against Royal Delta. Mike Smith was riding the champion hard, while Joe Rocco had Tiz Miz Sue primed for an upset. Just as it seemed Royal Delta was finished she dug in one last time and prevailed by 1/2 length.
Despite giving 3 lbs to Awesome Maria and 9 lbs to Tiz Miz Sue, as well as an early move set by jockey Mike Smith, she ran as good as you could have hoped for. She ran like a champion when needed and found a way to win. Awesome Maria would end up 3rd beaten almost 6 lengths. For Royal Delta, it was her 7th win in 12 races with five of those coming in graded company. She certainly has established herself as the top mare going 1 1/4 miles. With this win, she automatically qualifies for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic at Santa Anita in November as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
Later in the day, approximately 3,000 miles away, the six year old Don Warren trained Acclamation was ready to continue his dominance on the Southern California circuit. After missing the last few months of the 2011 including the Breeders’ Cup, Warren and the ownership group contemplated retirement. He had finished 2011 with five wins (three Grade 1 and two Grade 2) including the $1,000,000 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Leaving the sport would not have been so bad. He did win several big races throughout his career.
The retirement was brief and us racing fans should be glad for it. After missing 8 months, the 2011 Eclipse Award champion for older males would return to action in the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (G1) at BetFair Hollywood Park. A race he had won the two previous years. He didn’t disappoint as the overwhelming favorite to make it three years in a row.
On Saturday, he was once again bet down as the 2/5 favorite in a field of five horses for the Eddie Read Stakes (G1) at Del Mar. As expected, he took the early lead and no one decided to challenge him. This was a huge mistake. He toyed with the field and cruised to a 2 3/4 lengths victory. It’s his 7th straight victory dating back to his win in the Jim Murray Handicap (G2) at Hollywood on May 14, 2011.
He’s not just a turf horse. Included in his win streak was a hard fought win over Twirling Candy in the 2011 Pacific Classic. Multiple graded winner Game on Dude was 4th in that race. He could have been considered for Horse of the Year, but I believe what hindered his chances was the fact that he did not win away from California. His one and only race away from the local tracks was in West Virginia where he finished 10th in the Charles Town Classic Stakes (G3) on April 16. That race must have spurred him as the very next race was the beginning of this win streak.
If winning Horse of the Year is a priority, Warren and company should attempt a different prestigious race somewhere else instead of staying local. The Arlington Million would bring National and International attention if he were to go and win. The race usually includes a good mixture of American and European turf horses. However, I don’t believe that will happen. I believe they will keep him local, continue to win races and prepare for the Breeders’ Cup Turf which once again will be held at Santa Anita.