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Features - RACING

Royal Delta romps to a win in the Personal Ensign (Photos courtesy NYRA/Adam Coglinese).

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga Race Course represented one of the few bumps in the road for Royal Delta last year.

She got hot and bothered in the paddock. To make matters worse, jockey Mike Smith was just getting to know her; he admits now he should have allowed her to run more freely early in the contest. The combination led to a second-place finish, one-half length behind Love and Pride.

There were no miscues in the Personal Ensign this year as Royal Delta and Smith rebounded to take the Personal Ensign by an authoritative 4 ½ lengths against Authenticity on Sunday.

“When she comes with her ‘A’ game, that’s what you expect,” said winning trainer Bill Mott. “She was just good.”

Well, better than good. The 1 1/8-mile contest essentially turned into no contest after Royal Delta eased past On Fire Baby after the opening quarter of a mile went in 23.56 seconds. There was no catching her as she clicked off an opening half-mile in 46.78 seconds and handled six furlongs in 1:10.76 seconds en route to a final time of 1:48.35 seconds.

“I was just happy we got away good today and once we did that and she got into her monstrous stride, horses seem to have to take two to her one,” said Smith. “She’s a machine.”

Ben Leon sure knew what he was purchasing when he paid $8.5 million for the daughter of Empire Maker at Keeneland’s November sale in 2011. It was the third-highest price ever paid at that auction, following the $10.5 million spent on Playful Act in 2007 and the $9 million Ashado commanded in 2005.

“It was a lot of money,” Leon said of what he paid, “but in the end it might turn out to be the cheapest mare you could ever buy.”

Royal Delta, who demolished the Delaware Handicap field by 10 ¾ lengths in her previous start, won for the third time in five races this year to increase her earnings for the season to $907,275. She banked $2,009,251 for Leon’s Besilu Stables last year.

For Leon, it is not about dollars and cents. It is about displaying greatness in front of fans searching for stars to root for. As Royal Delta arrived at the winner’s circle, one woman could be heard telling another, “Wasn’t she beautiful?”

“Yes, she was,” her friend agreed.  

Horses do not come much better than this 5-year-old mare. “She’s in her best shape, best condition, best mind,” Leon said. “She’s at her best in her lifetime.”

Smith eased Royal Delta under the wire. He appeared to already be anticipating her next scheduled start, in the Beldame on Sept. 28 at Belmont Park in New York. That is intended to serve as her final race before the Breeders’ Cup, where Leon said she will be entered in the Classic and the Ladies’ Classic. He is leaning toward the latter, which is returning to the name of Distaff, because she can win that race for an unprecedented three successive year.

“My job as an owner is to give her all of the opportunities she may deserve,” Leon said. “That’s what I’m going to do.”    

For an Equibase chart, click here.

ROYAL DELTA AND MIKE SMITH RETURN AFTER THEIR VICTORY

Royal Delta PEInside

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