Mike Smith will ride Royal Delta for trainer Bill Mott. He could not have impressed with the 4-year-old filly more when she dominated the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 16, getting a career-best 110 Beyer speed figure.
"She is more talented than I already knew she was, to be honest with you," Smith said. "She ran about a second and a half faster than the boys that night. She was very impressive. She did it fairly easy. She relaxed really well for me and when I asked her to pick it up, she just jumped through the bridle and just drew away."
The jockey is not kidding. Royal Delta's performance was one of the best in 2012 by any horse anywhere.
Smith finished second in all three Triple Crown races. Nevertheless, the Hall of Famer is having another terrific season. He has ridden at DelPark, just not since 2009.
"It is a beautiful place and I will never forget how pretty the paddock was," Smith said. "It really helps and it certainly does not hurt to get the feel of the track, and I plan to ride a couple before the Delaware Handicap."
The distance will be perfect for Royal Delta.
"I think it is a plus for me,'' Smith said. “I think the mile and a quarter is right up her alley. She is going to be forwardly placed and she usually puts herself in the race. As long as I get her to relax and get into a rhythm early on, the mile and a quarter should not be a problem."
The issue is not the distance, but the competition. Awesome Maria crushed Royal Delta at Gulfstream Park earlier this year. That, however, was Royal Delta's first 2012 start. Awesome Maria was already in top form.
"I do not believe Royal Delta ran her best race that day, but she is going to have to run to outrun her,'' Smith said. “She is certainly going to have to bring her ‘A' game."
Royal Delta has career earnings of $1.8 million, while Awesome Maria has won a little more than $1 million.
If Awesome Maria wins, it will give trainer Todd Pletcher a record fifth DelCap win. Awesome Maria had some issues before the race that ended her winning streak, but has no issues now.
"We have not had to juggle our works schedule around rain and such, and we have gotten to do exactly what we want to do,'' Pletcher said. “I thought her last two breezes were exceptional, and she is touting us like she is ready to go down there and perform to her capabilities, which she would certainly need to do against a filly the quality of Royal Delta."
The two favorites typically race just off the pace. Thus, they are very likely to be near each other the whole trip.
There is certainly enough speed in front of the two favorites to give them a chance to deliver maximum efforts.
Speedball Love and Pride, also trained by Pletcher, won the Obeah Stakes, the DelCap prep.
"The Obeah Stakes is a prep we have used successfully for the Delaware Handicap a number of times," Pletcher said. “I believe Fleet Indian, Unbridled Belle and Irving's Baby all used the Obeah as a prep for the DelCap and were successful.''
Royal Delta is listed as the 7-5 morning-line favorite, with Awesome Maria right behind at 9-5. If they are that close in the stretch, the Delaware Park fans, who have seen great fillies and mares in the DelCap since the race began, will get to see a race as good as the horses in it.
Wall of Fame honors
There are five new members of DelPark's Wall of Fame, including Bud Delp, trainer of the wonderful Spectacular Bid. The Bid won the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. His unbeaten Horse of the Year campaign in 1980 was one of the best in horse-racing history.
Delp, a member of Racing's Hall of Fame, won 11 Delaware Park training titles, including seven straight from 1963 to 1969.
Joining Delp in the sixth class of inductees will be:
Jockey Eldon Nelson who rode many of the Christiana Stables horses for trainer Henry Clark. Nelson won the Delaware Oaks (Light Hearted) and DelCap (Endine).
Owner Walter M. Jeffords, who won 17 Delaware Park stakes, including the DelCap and DelOaks twice each.
Bayard Sharp, an original Delaware Park director who, along with his wife Mary, owned 91 stakes winners.
Parlo, the DelCap winner that carried the most weight (128 pounds in 1955). She is one of only four fillies to win the DelOaks and the DelCap the following year.
Contact Dick Jerardi at email@example.com.