STANTON, Del. — Royal Delta made light work of the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap on a warm, muggy afternoon at Delaware Park on Saturday. Despite being the overwhelming favorite to win the race, her most recent performance indicated that she might be vulnerable. Royal Delta had previous experiences where she ran a subpar race, only to bounce back in championship fashion, which is exactly what happened in Saturday’s record-setting performance.
Royal Delta broke alertly and went straight to the lead, before extending it at each pole throughout the race. She received applause from the crowd as she cruised down the lane, winning by a little more than 10 lengths while being geared down by her rider, Mike Smith. Royal Delta’s triumph marked the largest margin of victory in the event, eclipsing Quill’s nine-length win in 1960.
“It is about as easy at it gets,” Smith said after the race. “Even though it was hotter today than her last start, she was actually cooler today. She brought her ‘A’ game. She jumped out there, got into stride right away and made every step a winning one. I just cruised around there with her.”
Royal Delta also became the first horse to win back-to-back Delaware Handicaps since Nastique in 1988-89, and Saturday represented the first time the event received Grade-1 billing since Nastique’s second victory.
For the Delaware Handicap, trainer Bill Mott took Royal Delta off her bleeder medication, Lasix. Mott felt the horse ran dull in her last start, a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis on June 15 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and he wanted to try something different. Given Royal Delta’s overwhelming performance Saturday, it is now likely that she will continue to race without Lasix.
“She did it the right way,” Mott said, “and she is an awesome mare when she finds her right stride and gets her rhythm. She really covers a lot of ground. We were not going to take anything away from her if she broke well, and I was hoping she would break well. On paper, it looked like she might be the speed in the race, and she obviously was.”
Royal Delta’s next start is scheduled to be the Personal Ensign (Grade 1) on Aug. 25 at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She finished second last year to follow up her win in the Delaware Handicap.