TVG ALABAMA STAKES | PURSE: $500,000 | GRADE 1 | 3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES | 1 1/4 MILES
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- For most of the year, it seems like Royal Delta has been playing catch-up in the 3-year-old filly division. By virtue of her dominant performance in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Alabama Stakes before 33,380 at balmy Saratoga, it seems safe to say she has ascended to the level of the elite in the division.
After stalking the Grade 1 winners Plum Pretty and It's Tricky for more than a mile, Royal Delta was guided off the rail by Jose Lezcano in upper stretch and blew past those two accomplished opponents to win the 131st Alabama by 5 1/2 lengths. It's Tricky, the Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks winner, finished second as the slight 2-1 favorite by one length over longshot Pinch Pie. Plum Pretty, the Kentucky Oaks winner, finished fourth followed by St. John's River and Inglorious, the surprising second choice at 2-1.
The win was the fourth from six starts for Royal Delta, a daughter of Empire Maker owned and bred by the estate of Palides Investments, whose proprietor, Prince Saud bin Khaled, died in February.
"It's a great race to win,'' said winning trainer Bill Mott, who won this race in 2005 with Sweet Symphony. "The owner was a special friend of mine, he's not with us, I'm sure he's watching; a great win. We've always thought she was a nice filly and she just proved us right all the time.''
Not all the time. Royal Delta began the year with a ninth-place finish in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in which she encountered significant trouble. She got back on track with an allowance win at Keeneland in April before taking the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico in May. Royal Delta missed the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont in June due to a bruised foot and she finished a well-beaten third in the Coaching Club American Oaks, 7 1/4 lengths behind It's Tricky.
It was obviously a race she needed.
"She needed it in a lot of ways, not just conditioning but probably mentally,'' Mott said. "She was a little fresh in that race and we tried to make her sit in behind a little further. Today the plan was even if she wanted the lead to let her go on and do it.''
Royal Delta didn't make the lead, but she was content to sit third, about two lengths off the pace of Plum Pretty, who under Martin Garcia, set fractions of 24.54 seconds, 49.31, and 1:13.12 for six furlongs while being pursued by It's Tricky.
Leaving the five-sixteenths pole, It's Tricky went after Plum Pretty and the two came into the stretch together.
At the three-sixteenths pole, Lezcano guided Royal Delta into the three-path and she rallied past the two-pacesetters before veering in and brushing with the rail twice, yet still running unimpeded to the finish line. Royal Delta covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.13 and returned $13 as the fifth choice in the six-horse field.
"When she went past them it's like they shot her out of a slingshot,'' Mott said.
Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of It's Tricky, offered no excuses for his filly's second loss in six career seven career starts.
"I thought we ran our race and looked good,'' McLaughlin said. "The winner probably needed her last race and the mile and a quarter she probably loved. We ran very well and ran a good race. No excuses.''
The biggest disappointment of the race was Inglorious, who never lifted a hoof while finishing last under Luis Contreras. Inglorious, who beat males in the Queen's Plate over Woodbine's synthetic surface, opened up at odds of 4-5 and eventually went off at 2-1, the second choice with about $14,000 less money on her than It's Tricky.
Trainer Josie Carroll said her filly never looked comfortable on the track.
"Going past us the first time she was a little ranker than usual,'' Carroll said. "Usually Luis can get her to settle right back, she comes right off the bridle. She was climbing in the dirt a little bit, a little bit on the muscle, much more so than usual. I thought, `that's okay, he got her settled,' but when he went to pick her up he said he had no horse.''