Champion mare Royal Delta will take on five rivals Saturday as she defends her crown in the 76th running of the $750,000 Delaware Handicap (Del 'Cap) at Delaware Park.
Trained by Bill Mott, Royal Delta will attempt to become the first back-to- back winner of the 1 1/4-mile stakes since Nastique in 1988-89. The other consecutive winning horses were Endine (1958-59), Obeah (1969-70) and Blessing Angelica (1971-72). Susan's Girl won in 1973 and 1975.
With Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith again riding, Royal Delta will leave from post 3 and is the even-money morning-line favorite. In her 18-race career the mare has 10 wins for $3.8 million.
"She is doing very well," said Mott. "We could not ask for her to be doing any better. I would love to see her run in the Delaware Handicap the way she ran in the Fleur de Lis last year. When she runs a good one, she is awesome. She never really runs poorly and I think it gets to the point where we expect her to win, so when she does not, but still runs well, we get a little dumbfounded.
"We are planning on shipping down to Delaware the morning of the race. It worked last year, so I think that would be the best approach this year."
The champion female is coming off a second-place finish as the 3-10 favorite in the Fleur de Lis, a race she won last year, behind Funny Proposition at Churchill Downs. It was her first start since finishing 10th in the Dubai World Cup.
In her first race of the year, Royal Delta posted a five-length victory in the Sabin at Gulfstream Park.
She claimed the Eclipse Award as champion older female of 2012 after winning her second straight Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.
Here is the full field for the Del 'Cap in post position order: She's All In, Victor Carrasco, 15-1; Summer Applause, Alex Cintron, 7-2; Royal Delta, Mike Smith, even; Authenticity, TBA, 3-1; And Why Not, Joshua Navarro, 15-1 and Centring, Irad Ortiz Jr., 6-1.