Ladies’ Classic: Royal Delta takes the Alabama

- -

Bill Mott thought about his owner, his friend. “It’s just a shame he couldn’t be here to watch her,” Mott said. “I don’t know what happens when you leave this place but I hope he was watching.”

Revelers walked to Siro’s, NYRA officials walked through the paddock to go home Saturday evening. Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind had long since played. And Hall of Famer Bill Mott had won the Grade I Alabama with Royal Delta. Owned and bred by HH Prince Saud bin Khaled’s Palides Investments, Royal Delta provided a euphoric – and bittersweet – moment for Mott.

Khaled died in January. Royal Delta won the Alabama in August. The horses will be dispersed in the fall.

“He was a friend, he trusted you,” Mott said. “He called every day, ‘how you doing, how’s the weather, what did you run, what race you in, what number are you?’ A good guy. A good friend. He always rooted for us to win.”

Khaled provided plenty of wins.

Royal Delta’s dam, Delta Princess, won 11 races for Mott and Khaled. Royal Delta has already won four.

Ron Wallace helped manage Khaled’s Chanteclair Farm in Versailles, Ky. Wallace has worked with the three generations – Lyphard’s Delta, Delta Princess and Royal Delta. The latter was always special to Khaled and Wallace.

“It’s bittersweet because he was around to see her 2-year-old win, we knew from day one she was great, in fact, he always sells his yearlings and let’s the market decide which ones he keeps, but I never showed this one,” Wallace said. “Lane’s End came by and said, ‘where was this filly, we never saw her.’ I said that’s right, nobody saw her. When we sent her to Bill, I said, ‘Bill, we’ve got one for you.’ He called me about two months later and said, ‘You’re right, we’ve got one.’ “

Royal Delta broke her maiden by 12 lengths in October, lost the Suncoast in a troubled trip in March, won an allowance race at Keeneland in April and the Black Eyed Susan in May. Sent off at 2-1 in the Coaching Club American Oaks on opening weekend here, she fought with Lezcano for the first part, never looked comfortable and wound up a badly beaten third.

A month later, everything that did go wrong in the CCA Oaks went right in the Alabama.

The striking daughter of Empire Maker broke well from the rail and Jose Lezcano kept her in the breach rather than trying to take her back as he did in the CCA Oaks. Plum Pretty cleared Royal Delta and It’s Tricky ranged up in second as Royal Delta found a sweet spot in third, inside and relaxed. Plum Pretty doled out a quarter mile in 24.54, It’s Tricky sat second to her outside, Royal Delta cruised in third on the inside, Pinch Pie and St. John’s River adopted spots in fourth and fifth and favorite Inglorious climbed uncomfortably outside and last.  

Plum Pretty managed to sneak to a clear lead after a half in 49.31 as Lezcano emulated Royal Delta’s Saratoga exercise rider Rodolphe Brisset melting his hands low and long at her withers, bracing but not fighting. Royal Delta stretched her long neck, found her rhythm, and maintained striking distance on the 1-2 finishers of the CCA Oaks.

Exactly as Mott wanted.

“We didn’t know what the pace was going to be today, we knew who the likely speed horses were and that’s how it set up,” Mott said. “If they were going to go in 48, we were going to go in 48, I said, ‘Look, just don’t grab her.’ And as it turned out, she wasn’t that rank today, she left there, he let her go up in there, she was actually up inside the leader.”

Plum Pretty went three quarters in 1:13.12 as It’s Tricky began to move to her outside midway on the turn and for a moment it appeared to be a grudge match from the CCA Oaks. But only for a moment. Plum Pretty turned for home with It’s Tricky latched onto her. Lezcano asked Royal Delta to launch and the daughter of Empire Maker churned for a moment, wavered to her left for another moment and then turned the switch. It took her forever to get to them and then took nothing to pass them. Under right-handed whip pressure, Royal Delta sliced left as she put her head in front, swapping to her left lead and cutting to the rail like she was pulled by a puppet master. You might want to check Lezcano’s left boot for white paint.

By the wire, Royal Delta had streaked to a 5 1/2-length win over It’s Tricky and Pinch Pie. Royal Delta finished 10 furlongs in 2:03.13.

The debacle in the CCA Oaks was forgiven and forgotten.

“I was disappointed but I realized they had gotten into a wrestling match,” Mott said of the loss. “He knew where he wanted to be but instead of a 46 and change pace that they had at Pimlico, we had a 47 and change pace and she just wasn’t going to relax, and she was fresh, she hadn’t run in two months, she’s still green, she’s still not totally professional and she certainly wasn’t that day, she was much more professional today, at least for the first mile and three sixteenths, the last sixteenth she was a little green.”

Mott experimented with a turf breeze, 16 days after the Oaks, but for the most part wiped the slate clean and aimed at the Alabama.

It’s what Khaled would have wanted, he knew that for sure.

“He would have said go to the Alabama,” Mott said. “He liked to step up to the plate.”

It helps when you’re swinging a big, beautiful, sound, long-striding, blue-blooded filly who’s just starting to get good.

Mott took his time with Royal Delta, unveiling her at a mile at Belmont in the fall where she won easily. He backed off, went to Florida and didn’t run her again until March, picking out a $55,000 stakes where the race blew up from the start when she got bounced around and Alex Solis’ saddle slipped. Regrouped again, she won a first-level allowance easily at Keeneland, “I just wanted to win a race,” Mott said, and then skipped the Kentucky Oaks to shoot for the Black Eyed Susan. Mott sees it at as one of the keys to the Alabama.

“I think missing the Kentucky Oaks was key, we were willing to take a step back and get a stakes win into her, in the long run, that worked out for us,” Mott said, referring to the relatively easy score in the Black Eyed Susan. “When we passed the Kentucky Oaks, this was the race we zeroed in on, then you just fast forward and work back from there, what’s going to get us there, ‘OK, we’re going to miss the Oaks, we’re not seasoned enough for that, we just came off a one-other-than at Keeneland and we were on the bubble of getting in the Oaks. We just bypassed it and pointed for this.”

Mott planned on running Royal Delta in the Mother Goose at Belmont when she lost two hind shoes breezing on the Belmont Park training track six days before the planned Grade I foray. It was a bump in the road but not a pothole.

“She bruised both her feet and couldn’t get out of the stall for two days. I don’t know why. It was weird. She came back and we thought she was tying up, she didn’t leave the stall for two days,” Mott said. “By the time the Mother Goose ran, she was back on the track and she was jogging, she wasn’t perfect but she was pretty good. You could have galloped her and said she’s pretty good, but she wasn’t right. But if we ran in the Mother Goose, four weeks to the Coaching Club, four weeks to this, maybe it would have been too much. Sometimes, Mother Nature has a way of working things out for you, it takes care of drunks, idiots and dumb horse trainers.”