Besilu Stable’s Royal Delta, North America’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2011, returned to the scene of her greatest victory with a jaw-dropping, eight-length victory over Afleeting Lady in the $161,700 Fleur de Lis Handicap Presented by Finlandia Vodka on Saturday night at Churchill Downs.
The Fleur de Lis, which means “flower of the lily” and honors the symbol in the city of Louisville’s flag, was the third of four graded stakes races run under the lights as part of Churchill Downs’ special “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” nighttime racing program.
Royal Delta, who capped her championship season a year ago with a 2 ½-length triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs, rebounded from a ninth-place finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) to clock 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:49.49, which was 1.02 seconds fast than Ron the Greek would run in the Grade I, $437,200 Stephen Foster Handicap one race later.
Ridden for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and conditioned by Hall of Fame and Churchill Downs all-time leading trainer Bill Mott, Royal Delta collected her sixth victory – fourth in graded stakes company – from 11 career starts. The $99,251 first prize jumped her career earnings to $1,813,851.
The 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker out of the A.P. Indy mare Delta Princess relaxed while close and three-wide in the early stages of the race as Sterling Madame set fractions of :23.71 and :47.70. Afleeting Lady briefly grabbed the lead on the far turn and clocked three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.03 as Royal Delta began to quickly engulf the leaders. The winner was ridden by Smith around the turn and into the stretch to put the runner-up away and was gathered up nearly the entire final furlong en route to an impressive score.
Royal Delta paid $3.20, $2.60 and $2.10 as the 3-5 odds-on favorite in the field of six fillies and mares. Afleeting Lady, who was 4 ¼ lengths clear of third-place finisher St. John’s River, returned $3.80 and $2.60. St. John’s River paid $2.20. Sterling Madame, It’s Tea Time and Distorted Love completed the order of finish.
This was third Fleur de Lis victory for Mott, who also won with Heatherten in 1984 and Escena in 1998.
FLEUR DE LIS HANDICAP QUOTES
Benjamin Leon, owner of Royal Delta, winner: “She ran good in Dubai, but had a bad trip. Today, I don't think (jockey) Mike (Smith) had to hit her a single time. He gave her a great ride and the filly did her job. I'm very happy.”
Bill Mott, trainer of Royal Delta, winner: “Without a doubt, it was very good to see. She had a nice, smooth trip today and gave a good effort. She's a champion. She was a deserving champion last year and it looks like right now, from what we saw tonight, there are more good things to come.”
Q: What's next? “The Delaware Handicap is possible.”
Mike Smith, jockey on Royal Delta, winner: “She’s just a monster. They way she drove away from some really good fillies was pretty impressive. Bill (Mott) said to get her out of there and break well and try not to take too much hold of her or I would change her stride. He said to try to get in a rhythm with her.
“She just had them over a barrel today. I could tell you a lot of different things, but I could have ridden her backwards today and she still would have won.”
Corey Lanerie, jockey on Afleeting Lady, second: “I was second-best. That filly is just something special. I got my filly to relax good and the race set up just like I thought. I thought I’d be laying second and hopefully I’d get the jump on her (Royal Delta) and kick on, but she was in my pocket at the quarter pole. I was glad to be second. She just put us away. She is in another class.”
Q: Afleeting Lady continues to run well … “She’s a very nice filly. She ran her eyeballs out and gave me everything she had. She just couldn’t beat that one.”
Rosie Napravnik, jockey of St. John’s River, third: “The pace wasn’t exactly ideal for her. She could use a little more pace in front of her. But I don’t think it was her best race. Not that it was a bad race. She still ran pretty well. I just don’t think it was her best day.”
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2013, and its 2012 Spring Meet is scheduled for April 28-July 1. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record eight times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.churchilldowns.com.
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