Champion Royal Delta will seek a title defense in the June 15 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs, her connections confirmed May 31. She is expected to be joined in her trip to the Louisville oval by sales-topping stablemate Mr. Besilu, who targets a one-mile maiden special weight for his highly-anticipated debut.
Royal Delta follows the same pattern she took in 2012 for Besilu Stables and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, exiting an off-the-board finish in the Dubai World Cup to enter the 1 1/8-mile dirt event for older fillies and mares. Last year, Royal Delta won the Fleur de Lis by eight lengths while cruising the final furlong under wraps by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
"She's doing well," Besilu Stables bloodstock manager Fabricio Buffolo said of the two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic who has earned $3.7 million. "Her last work was very, very good, and she's ready to start back here."
The 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker turned in a bullet move May 27, going five furlongs in :59.01 at Belmont Park. She returned to the tab May 13 with an easy four furlongs in :49.34, and had one other move between the two, a May 19 four-furlong breeze in :52.03.
Worth $175,000 this year, the Fleur de Lis is expected to attract Apple Blossom Handicap winner On Fire Baby, who finished a head behind Authenticity in the May 4 La Troienne at Churchill. Also possible is Becky Winemiller's Grade 3 Wine Princess, daughter of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and 2002 Horse of the Year and three-time champion Azeri, according to Churchill stakes coordinator Alison DeLuca. Nominations close June 1 for the race, which accompanies the $750,000 Stephen Foster.
A one-mile maiden special weight on the undercard is expected to feature Mr. Besilu, a 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy out of Balance, the grade I-winning half sister to Horse of the Year Zenyatta. In 2010, Mr. Besilu was the most expensive Thoroughbred sold at public auction in North America when Benjamin Leon bought him for $4.2 million from the Mill Ridge consignment at the Keeneland September yearling sale. A soft tissue injury delayed his training, but the big colt has progressed well since arriving at Belmont from Mott's winter base of Payson Park at the end of April.
Mr. Besilu worked a quick half-mile in :47.65 at Belmont May 27, sixth-fastest of 89 at the distance. His previous move was five furlongs from the gate in 1:01.92.
"He stayed at the farm for a long time and had quite a bit of work there," Buffolo said. "When he went to Bill he was in good shape, but of course he needed more work at the track. He's a very big horse. He's doing well but he'll need the race -- I'm sure he'll benefit a lot experience-wise, and to get out there and have competition will sharpen him up."