Champion Royal Delta made short work of a short field on Sunday at Saratoga Race Course, taking over on the backstretch and cruising to a commanding victory in the 66th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign Invitational Handicap.
The victory earned the 5-year-old mare, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, an automatic berth and an all-fees-paid entry into the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita this fall as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge “Win and You're In” series. Should she run, Royal Delta would be bidding for her third straight victory in the race, but Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said that like last year, the Besilu Stables color-bearer would be cross-entered in the Classic.
Lined up as the odds-on favorite against four foes, Royal Delta was away quickly and went into the first turn perched just off On Fire Baby, who led through an opening quarter-mile in 23.56 seconds. Straightened away on the backside, Smith let Royal Delta glide into the lead, where she proceeded to bound through a half-mile in 46.78, with three-quarters going in 1:10.76.
Around the turn, second choice Authenticity mustered a run at Royal Delta but she quickly pulled clear and hit the wire 4 ½ widening lengths in front while being kept to task by Smith.
“I just was happy I got away good today, and once we did that and she got into her monstrous stride;horses seem to have to take two [strides] to her one,” said Smith. “She's a machine. Down the lane, she got to looking around the track a little bit, so I got after her just a little to keep her going.”
Royal Delta's time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:48.34 as she avenged her defeat in last year's edition to the Todd Pletcher-trained Love and Pride.
“Everything went wrong, didn't it, last year,” said Smith. “She got really, really hot. I didn't think I rode her really well last year. I was just getting to know her. I didn't let her use that big stride that she has early. I should have then because I think I would have won that one. But you live and learn, and it's just getting better and better.”
Sent off at 3-5 by the crowd of 18,706, Royal Delta returned $3.10 for a $2 win bet. The victory, her sixth in a Grade 1, was her third in five starts this year, and the winner's purse of $360,000 increased her bankroll to $4,611,126.
“When she comes with her ‘A' game, that's what you expect,” said Mott of Royal Delta, a 9 ¾-length winner of the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap prior to the Personal Ensign. “She was just good. She was good last time. Mike said she was strong and felt great.”
Authenticity was second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Centring, who was followed under the wire by On Fire Baby. Open Water checked in fifth.
Mott said the next start for Royal Delta likely would be on September 28 at Belmont Park in the Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame Invitational, which she won last year prior to the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.
“I think that's what we'd probably do,” he said.
See the full chart here.
Personal Ensign (G1) Quotes
Bill Mott, winning trainer of Royal Delta (No. 2): “When she comes with her ‘A' game, that's what you expect. She was just good. She was good last time. Mike said she was strong and felt great.”
Did the pace concern you? “You know what? Who's going to go with her? We lapped up on On Fire Baby and he backed off us. I guess he could see we were going to go. She's just got a big, beautiful stride and it's hard for some of them to keep up.”
Next? “We'd probably like to go to the Beldame [Grade 1, September 28, Belmont Park], same as we did last year.”
Mike Smith, rider of winner Royal Delta (No. 2): “I just was happy I 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. She's a machine. Down the lane, she got to looking around the track a little bit, so I got after her just a little to keep her going. She's just so big. You hate for her to gear too much down and someone comes running. It's hard to get going again. Other than that, everything was wonderful.”
“Everything went wrong, didn't it, last year. She got really, really hot. I didn't think I rode her really well last year. I was just getting to know her. I didn't let her use that big stride that she has early. I should have then because I think I would have won that one. But you live and learn, and it's just getting better and better.”
Todd Pletcher, trainer of runner-up Authenticity (No. 5): “I thought our filly ran super. We were just second best. I'm really pleased with her effort. She didn't lose any respect in defeat.”
John Velazquez, jockey of second-place finisher Authenticity (No. 5): “I got a little bit excited at the five-sixteenths pole when we were getting closer. I thought we had a chance. Then at the quarter pole, Royal Delta reached in and got away again. We were just second best.”
Thomas Albertrani, trainer of third place finisher Centring (No. 4): “A good effort. Grade 1 placing, that's the most important thing. She kind of lost contact early on, but she made up some good ground so it was a good effort.”
Javier Castellano, jockey aboard third-place finisher Centring (No. 4): “I had a good trip. My filly really closed today. I really liked the way she did it in the last part of the race. She closed and almost got second place in a Grade 1 behind Royal Delta.”
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