By Ed Gray
Champion Royal Delta Second in Prep for Dubai World Cup
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – A glamour match-up was featured in Saturday’s $100,000 Sabin (G3), for which Gulfstream Park bettors gave Awesome Maria a slight edge over Royal Delta, sending trainer Todd Pletcher’s gray monster mare to the starting gate as the 4-5 favorite over trainer Bill Mott’s Eclipse Award champion and even-money second choice.
The result of the 1 1/16-mile stakes for fillies and mare wasn’t nearly that close between the 123-pound co-highweights.
Awesome Maria, making her first start since an injury concluded her undefeated 2011 season in June, notched an overpowering eight-length decision over Royal Delta, who was making her first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs in November.
“Naturally, we had some concern coming off a June layoff and carrying topweight that she might need a prep, but she’s top class and got it done,” said Pletcher, whose 5-year-old trainee captured the 2011 Sabin by nearly five lengths.
In remaining perfect in three starts at Gulfstream, Awesome Maria broke a step slowly from the starting gate as Royal Delta stumbled slightly. Both fillies moved in tandem around the turn to make for a closely bunched field of five, led by longshot Canadian Mistress into the backstretch. But that would be as close as the two favorites would be the rest of the way.
Awesome Maria gained a menacing stalking position along the backstretch, while a fresh Royal Delta settled into stride and dropped back to last. The favorite stormed to the lead on the far turn and extended her advantage to the finish line under John Velazquez.
“I planned on sitting third anyway, but I didn’t plan on it being a start like that. She broke slow but it worked perfect. She settled in down the backside and then I gave her her head and she took off,” Velazquez said. “She was very impressive off the layoff today. Good to have her back.”
Awesome Maria, who ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.82, captured her eighth victory in 13 starts for E. Paul Robsham Stables LLC.
Royal Delta made steady progress under Jose Lezcano to get up for second by a head over Groupie Doll, the 4-1 third choice who had briefly taken the lead on the far turn.
“It’s not a surprise. The other filly is a good filly and we got a good race in our filly. About the time she settled it was time to go. With the short wire, she wasn’t going to beat the winner today,” said Mott, referring to the alternative finish line instituted for 1 1/16-mile races that is shortens the stretch run by a sixteenth of a mile.
Awesome Maria, a striking daughter of Maria’s Mon, was undefeated in four starts last year after Pletcher began using the Monty Roberts blanket on her in the starting gate.
“We started using the blanket on her last year because she would get a little stirred up when her sides would touch the gate. It’s not a problem even though she has to load first, but she’s five-for-five with it, so this is no time change,” said Pletcher, who expects Awesome Maria to seek a repeat victory in the Rampart (G3) at Gulfstream on March 31.
Despite Royal Delta’s loss, Mott expects the effort to benefit his stretch-running 4-year-old filly in her next start against colts in the 1 ¼-mile $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31.
“I think it was a very similar race to what she ran in the Beldame before she won the Breeders’ Cup. She ran second and came back to run very well,” said Mott, whose filly lost by more than eight lengths in the Beldame before scoring by 2 ½ lengths in the Ladies’ Classic. “I think the 10 furlongs is going to be to her benefit and we know that she runs well on synthetic surfaces, which they have in Dubai. I’m really not at all disappointed because we’re going to a totally different race next time.”
Lezcano echoed Mott’s sentiments.
“I was happy with her race. I don’t think the distance helped her. Once we got into the stretch and she switched leads, she ran on well but the distance was too short,” Lezcano said. “I think she’ll get much better from this race.”
Mott was struck with a feeling of déjà vu Saturday, when his Awesome Maria defeated his Ladies’ Classic winner in her 2012 debut.
“The filly that won, she beat Unrivaled Belle last year in her first race back,” said Mott of his 2010 Ladies’ Classic winner who finished third behind Awesome Maria in the Rampart. “That other filly runs very well on this racetrack.”