Dual Eclipse Champion, Royal Delta, is ready to roll
Photo by Toni Pricci
Dual Eclipse Champion, Royal Delta, is ready to roll
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., January 17, 2013—All had fair warning: “She’s stronger, getting older, and carrying more flesh,” trainer Bill Mott told the world in a pre-race paddock interview at Gulfstream Park on chilly afternoon in South Florida hours before the champion arrived.

“Hopefully, she’s ready to have a big year.”

So it wasn't surprising to notice Royal Delta when she and her four rivals entered the ring before the the Grade 3 Sabin Stakes. She was the one that towered over the others, literally and figuratively, and not only because she was 1-9 on the tote at that time.

She was taller, yes, but really fit and ready to go for a horse that was "only" prepping, showing the creases of condition, sharpness, controlled energy and a coat that refelcted off the late afternoon sun.

By the time she reached the starting gate, the filly was a little warm, surprising considering the brisk atmosphere, but not so much when you consider that she’s an Empire Maker. “It’s a little unusual when she’s not, that’s her,” said the trainer.

At the start, Royal Delta did not break sharply, actually hopping up a bit at the start, but gathered herself quickly--seemingly more athletic than we remember--and she got right into the race from between horses going into the first turn.

“Mike [Smith] said she was a little uneasy in the gate. We didn’t do any gate work with her but we’ve got some work to do now.”

“She wasn’t the best coming out of the gate,” agreed Smith, “but it was her first start in a while.”

The slow opening quarter mile of :24.06 helped her get into the race and Smith allowed her to go up and challenge for the lead, eventually opening her advantage on the far turn with Smith employing only a hand ride at that point.

She entered the Hallandale straight with authority but Smith and his mare approached the short mile and a sixteenth finish line, he began gearing the dual champion down even as All for Thee was resurgent under a highly energetic Jose Lezcano.

Bill Mott and Benjamin Leon celebrate the champ's return
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Bill Mott and Benjamin Leon celebrate the champ's return
Was the manner of her on-the-pace five-length victory in a solid 1:43.31 surprising? “Well she showed that she could do that in her last race [Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic]. We thought we’d just let her roll out of there.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Mott said of the mare’s season’s debut. “I can breathe a sigh of relief. We’ve got a little more work to do.” And plenty of gas in the tank to work with.

Mott will be working to get her ready for the World Cup on March 30. The first contingent of U.S. horses shipping over for event night will be leaving on March 17. She’ll get there about nine of 10 days before the race, the same time table as last year.”

So, why should this Dubai World Cup be different from last year’s when she finished unplaced in what past performances indicate was the worst race of her life?

Did the filly learn anything, about the Tapeta surface, the lights, the 7,800-mile trip from South Florida to Dubai to take on the world’s best males?

And how about her trainer, what did he take from his experience? Was there anything unusual about night racing there, as opposed to the states? Was the filly herself that night?

“It was the trip,” Mott said. Everything was perfect. She shipped well, ate well, thought she handled the surface beautifully, she broke well, and then the trip…”

And this year?

Next stop Dubai
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Next stop Dubai
“With a good trip we think she can make a good show,” said Mott who won a Gulfstream allowance race with a late developing and talented four-year-old, Cigar Street, who returned earlier this meet after recovering from a hairline fracture.

Mott also won two races at Aqueduct, all this after winning three at Gulfstream on Saturday, including two graded stakes.

“This is no easy task’” he said. “She’ll be running against the best horses in the world. Horses have been over there training [for the race] since November.

“Hopefully everything will go as well as last year. She was doing well, shipped over well, ate well, and acclimated well. She’ll be on the same timetable as she was last year.”

Now if Royal Delta can only avoid the turbulence that sometimes occurs when the world’s best horses get together at 10 furlongs under the lights and stars on an electricity-charged night in the desert.