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By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

ARCADIA, Calif. – As exhilarating as it was for fans to watch Royal Delta surge to an early lead for jockey Mike Smith and stay there as she repeated in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) on Friday, the best news had nothing to do with that outcome. It involved owner Ben Leon’s firm commitment to campaign her next year.

It was heartening news, indeed, at the end of a season in which most were all too fleeting. Just when valiant I’ll Have Another and his out-of-nowhere jockey, Mario Gutierrez, gained the national spotlight, the colt was retired on the eve of the Belmont Stakes (G1) with a career-ending injury. Union Rags, who finally displayed his quality in the Belmont, never provided an encore due to another career-ending issue. Paynter, the Belmont runner-up and Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) victor, successfully fought for his life after bouts with colitis and laminitis.

Royal Delta? With trainer Bill Mott and his staff catering to her every need, she flourished at four. And the best may be yet to come for the swift daughter of Empire Maker.

“She has never been over-raced. She was lightly raced as a 2- and 3-year-old,” Mott noted. “She is a sound mare and the way she is bred, she is bred to get better as she gets older. I’m in hopes that she’ll stay as good next year or even be better.

“She has to remain healthy and we’ve got big plans for her. … If there is ever a filly that you could shoot for the moon with, I would say it would probably be one like her.”

Shooting for the moon will begin with the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) as the first major target.

“Our intention is to take her to Dubai to give her one more shot with Mike Smith in order to become the world champ at the Dubai World Cup,” Leon said. “We will take it one day at a time and make decisions after that World Cup.”

Mott plotted out seven-race schedules each of the last two years, so another would seem very likely. He was not overly discouraged that Royal Delta finished ninth, 8 ½ lengths behind victorious Monterosso, in last year’s World Cup.

“She traveled well and she loved the track,” he said. “She just, unfortunately, had a bad trip and had some bad racing luck.”

The new Queen of Racing will be given some well-deserved time off before Mott slowly brings her back to form. He intends to use a prep leading up to the journey half a world away to Dubai. If all goes well, her schedule would culminate in a bid to beat the boys when the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) returns to Santa Anita.

“We’ve got them to run them and enjoy them,” Mott said. “If you’re afraid to get beat, you’re going to have an awful frustrating time in this business. Obviously, we do get frustrated when we lose, but you cannot be afraid to [lose].”

Leon gets it. He invested $8.5 million in Royal Delta last November when, just a few days after her 2010 Ladies’ Classic triumph, she was made available as part of a dispersal. It was the third-highest price ever paid at the Keeneland November sale, and it was not an easy decision for Leon. He remembers asking advisers how high he should be willing to go in the bidding.

“There is only one of her,” his chief veterinarian replied.

ROYAL DELTA - TWO-TIME LADIES' CLASSIC WINNER

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Photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

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