They burst through the gate eight strong, a field of distaffers called one of the best assemblages ever in the 29 runnings of the Breeders'...
ARCADIA, Calif. — They burst through the gate eight strong, a field of distaffers called one of the best assemblages ever in the 29 runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. And a handful of strides later, defending race winner Royal Delta began to unveil a secret weapon not even her camp saw coming Friday.
Never in her previous 14 career starts had the champion filly found herself winging away on the lead. Yet against what was supposed to be the ultimate “A list” of foes, the daughter of Empire Maker had the audacity to see if there was a new dimension to her already heralded form.
“She’s never really broken well,” jockey Mike Smith said of his mount. “When you have a mare with the stride she has and as talented as she is, the best thing to do is stay out of her way, and that’s what I did.”
Proving that the ceiling on her ability has yet to be reached, Royal Delta switched things up and still delivered her familiar result, posting a 1 ½-length, gate-to-wire triumph over previously unbeaten My Miss Aurelia and six others in the $2 million Ladies’ Classic.
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Class Included, who is based at Emerald Downs in Auburn, finished seventh in 1-1/8-mile race. She is the first locally based horse to run in one of the Breeders’ Cup classic races.
Though the crowd of 34,619 at Santa Anita made Royal Delta the 8-5 favorite, to win the way she did — over a field that featured six other Grade I winners and two with perfect records in My Miss Aurelia and Awesome Feather — was something that left her connections seeking out new superlatives.
In addition to giving Smith his record 16th win in a Breeders’ Cup race, Royal Delta also joins Bayakoa (1989-90) as the only back-to-back winners of the Ladies’ Classic nee Distaff.
“Spectacular. She’s a talented mare to be able to run well and win no matter how the race develops,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who earned his ninth victory in a Breeders’ Cup race. “I was a little concerned when they were throwing up those fractions, but she kept going and ran them off their feet.”
Royal Delta paid $5.20 and the winning time was 1 minute, 48.80 seconds. It was her ninth career win.
Mott is in position to sweep the weekend’s biggest races, a feat he accomplished last year. He has three runners in the $5 million Classic on Saturday, a race he won last year with Drosselmeyer.
Days after Royal Delta’s victory in last year’s Ladies’ Classic, owner Ben Leon purchased Royal Delta for $8.5 million at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock.
Royal Delta now has Leon convinced she might be one of his great pound-for-pound investments.
Awesome Feather finished a dull sixth, her first loss in 11 career starts, while multiple Grade I winner Questing was eased on the backstretch by jockey Irad Ortiz but appeared to have no outward physical ailment.
The biggest upset in the six races was Calidoscopio ($36.80 to win) in the $500,000 1 ¾-mile Marathon, jockey Aaron Gryder’s first Breeders’ Cup win. The 9-year-old horse from Argentina won by 4 ¼ lengths became the oldest Breeders’ Cup champion.
Hightail ($32.80) won by a nose in the $500,000 6-furlong Juvenile Sprint, giving trainer D. Wayne Lukas his leading 19th Breeders’ Cup win at 77.
In the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, Flotilla ($24.80) rallied to win by 1 ¼ lengths in the one-mile race.
Zagora ($20.40) won the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf at 1 ¼ miles by three-quarters of a length.
Beholder ($9.80) led all the way to win the $2 million Juvenile Fillies at 1-1/16 miles, holding off 3-2 favorite Executiveprivilege by 1 length.