Royal Delta makes her return in the Fleur de Lis
Royal Delta, champion 3-year-old filly of 2011; Right to Vote, runner-up to Mark Valeski in the Peter Pan (Grade II); and Hilltop winner Coup headline the entries for the trio of graded stakes to be run under the lights Saturday at Churchill Downs as part “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program.
The $150,000-added Fleur de Lis (GII), $100,000-added Matt Winn (GIII) and $100,000-added Regret (GIII) highlight the undercard of the 31st running of the $400,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), which is a part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” series for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) for the first time.
Besilu Stables’ champion Royal Delta leads a field of six fillies and mares entered in the Fleur de Lis on Saturday night. She capped-off her championship season in 2011 with a 2 ½-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI) over older fillies and mares at Churchill Downs. A dark bay or brown daughter of Empire Maker, Royal Delta’s 3-year-old campaign also was highlighted by victories in the Alabama (GI) at Saratoga and Black-Eyed Susan (GII) at Pimlico.
Royal Delta made her 2012 debut in the Sabin (GIII) at Gulfstream Park in February and finished second to Awesome Maria. Trainer Bill Mott, who won the Fleur de Lis with Escena in 1998, sent Royal Delta to Dubai off that performance for the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI). After a troubled trip, Royal Delta finished ninth of 13.
She returned to Mott’s barn at Belmont Park shortly after her disappointing finish in Dubai and resumed training. Benjamin Leon of Besilu Stables and Mott picked the Fleur de Lis as the next spot for Royal Delta and she arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday. She will carry the top weight of 123 pounds Saturday night when she breaks from post five under Mike Smith. Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has made Royal Delta the heavy morning-line favorite at 4-5.
The 37th running of the Fleur de Lis for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the main track at Churchill Downs returns in 2012 after being put on hiatus in 2011. The 2010 Fleur de Lis was won by Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick’s Rachel Alexandra, who was honored as Horse of the Year the year prior at the completion of her 3-year-old season.
Royal Delta’s main rival could be Dede McGehee’s St. John’s River, the next high weight at 118 pounds. St. John’s River has a pair of very notable runner-up performances in her two starts on the main track at Churchill Downs. A 4-year-old bay daughter of Include, St. John’s River finished second to Plum Pretty in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI) last year and, in her most recent start, she was second behind Juanita in the La Troienne Presented by Steelcase and ORI (GII) on this year’s Kentucky Oaks Day undercard. Rosie Napravnik was aboard for both of those races and will have the mount Saturday night when St. John’s River breaks from the rail.
St. John’s River is trained by Andy Leggio Jr., who is seeking his second victory in the Fleur de Lis. He saddled Happy Ticket to win the event in 2006. Tom Amoss, trainer of Sterling Madame, is also looking for a second Fleur de Lis win. He saddled Heritage of Gold for her Fleur de Lis victory in 2000.
The Fleur de Lis is scheduled to be run as Race 7 at 9:05 p.m. (all times Eastern).
The field for the Fleur de Lis, from the rail out, is as follows: St. John’s River (ridden by Rosie Napravnik, weighted at 118 pounds, 3-1 morning-line odds), Sterling Madame (Leandro Goncalves, 115, 8-1), Afleeting Lady (Corey Lanerie, 116, 4-1), Distorted Love (Miguel Mena, 114, 15-1), Royal Delta (Mike Smith, 123, 4-5) and It’s Tea Time (Javier Castellano, 115, 10-1).