Arcadia, California: Hot favourite Royal Delta lived up to her billing as the top female horse in the United States by retaining her title in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Santa Anita Park on Friday.
With Mike Smith on board, the Kentucky-bred filly took control of the race by the first turn and easily fended off late bursts by My Miss Aurelia and Include Me Out down the stretch.
The previously unbeaten My Miss Aurelia finished one-and-a-half lengths back with Include Me Out in third, a further one-and-a-quarter lengths adrift.
Royal Delta won the race 12 months ago with an explosive finish under the lights at Churchill Downs in Kentucky and successfully defended her title in California as a four-year-old.
Her command performance on the dirt of Santa Anita also gave jockey Smith a record 16th career win at the Breeders’ Cup, moving him one ahead of fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey.
“This is one of the greatest days of my life,” Smith said as he sat next to Royal Delta’s trainer Bill Mott, another Hall of Famer.
“I felt so confident at the first turn and I felt confident the rest of the way. She is a true champion. She trains the way that she ran. Just amazing.”
Smith was typically humble when asked what a 16th Breeders’ Cup win meant to him.
“I’ve become the all-time winner... it’s incredible to be with the riders on this list,” he said. “It’s truly an honour. I hope to be around a few more years to add to it.”
Smith, who won his first Breeders Cup race in 1992 aboard Lure in the Mile has five more rides on Saturday, including Mucho Macho Man in the $5 million Classic, a much-touted chance to add to his record.
“I have some great chances,” Smith said of his upcoming rides, which also include Rumor in the Filly & Mare Sprint, Mizdirection (Turf Sprint), Amazombie (Sprint) and Suggestive Boy in the Mile.
“But it certainly feels good to get this record out of the way on Friday. It’s good to win this race and it gives you confidence going into tomorrow so we will see what happens.”
Mott, who earned his fifth career victory in the Ladies’ Classic with Royal Delta’s repeat win, also paid tribute to the four-year-old.
“Spectacular, she broke sharply, was out on the lead and just ran the race that way,” said the trainer, who had considered entering her for the marquee Breeders’ Classic on Saturday.
“She’s a talented mare to be able to run well and win no matter how the race develops. I was a little concerned when they were throwing up those fractions but she kept going and ran them off their feet.”
Royal Delta, daughter of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, gave her connections a brief scare earlier this week when she suffered a slight injury before being transported to California from Newburgh, 60 miles (97 kilometres) north of New York City.
As she was being backed into her stall on the plane, she was cut on her right rear but, according to Mott, she has fully recovered.
“Everything is good,” Mott said. “She’s feeling very good. The wound looks good. It’s a non-issue.”
The Ladies’ Classic was the signature event out of six on the opening day of the two-day Breeders’ Cup extravaganza.