By Michele MacDonald
With her bid for history in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-gr. I) only four days away, Royal Delta is feeling, as trainer Bill Mott put it with a delighted grin, “sassy.”
That’s just what he wants to see in the champion filly. Her demeanor—expressed with a few energetic leaps as she passed a throng of media members and whirring cameras while she entered the main track at Meydan for her morning exercise on March 27—is akin to the way she acted prior to her emphatic victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I), he noted.
“She feels great,” added Leana Willaford, Mott’s assistant who was in the saddle for Royal Delta’s brief airs above the ground. “She saw all those people and just decided to do something silly.”
Reunited for a second consecutive day with her Dubai work partner, the Graham Motion-trained UAE Derby (UAE-gr. II) entrant Lucky Chappy, Royal Delta settled down quickly and galloped strongly for about 1 3/8 miles, with the colt following along several lengths behind her.
Upon completing a circuit of the track, Royal Delta visited the starting gate for a brief and uneventful schooling session. She stood quietly in post two, looking around curiously while an assistant starter patted her neck softly and other crew members admired her strength and size.
Mott’s flight to Dubai did not arrive in time for him to see Royal Delta on the track, but he visited her in the quarantine barn area later in the morning and revealed that he devised the bold plan of running her in the World Cup last fall, long before she was crowned a champion.
As the trainer of two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, Mott blazed new territory by bravely taking that great champion to Dubai—then just an unknown, sand-swept hamlet on the Arabian Gulf—for the inaugural running of the World Cup. He will forever be in the record books as the first trainer to win the gold whip emblematic of success in the globe’s richest racing event.
There are parallels to his journey this year with Royal Delta. Mott knows well that no filly has ever won the World Cup—indeed, only six female runners have ever attempted the feat—and that a victory would give both her and him special places in the race’s history.
“That’s what I was thinking,” he said with a laugh.
Mott began to make his vision become reality by sharing the idea with Benjamin Leon after the owner spent $8.5-million to buy Royal Delta at Keeneland last November from the estate of her breeder, Saudi Prince Saud bin Khaled.
“As her trainer, I told him up front—before I even knew I was getting her back—that the Dubai World Cup would be the perfect place to take her,” said Mott, the 2011 Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer and the youngest trainer, at 45, ever to be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.
“She’s got many things going for her. The one thing we don’t know is whether she is good enough,” Mott explained. “But the distance doesn’t seem to be a factor; she’s won at a mile and a quarter. She’s won race on a synthetic track. She’s won under the lights and she doesn’t need any medication to speak of. She’s jumped through a lot of the hoops that you have to clear to win here.”
Leon ultimately decided to leave the filly with Mott , and it did not take him long to embrace the daring idea of trying to win the Dubai World Cup with the strong stretch runner in a sporting gesture not often seen in this era.
“He spent a lot of money for her and obviously the filly is a champion. But he’s an owner who is clearly willing to take risks. It didn’t take much convincing to talk him into it,” Mott said.
Leon and some family members and friends also have made it to Dubai and are staying at the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel on the Gulf. They are expected to watch Royal Delta train in the mornings prior to her Dubai date with destiny on March 31.