Living the Dream

By Michele MacDonald

While champion Royal Delta spent another morning turning heads as she soared around Meydan on March 30, stealing some of the spotlight from her Dubai World Cup (UAE-gr. I) rival and early favorite So You Think as he cantered at the same time, her owner and jockey were living out the dream with which she has gifted them.

Royal Delta March 30 at Meydan - Photo by Michele MacDonald

So You Think March 30 at Meydan - Photo by Michele MacDonald

Benjamin Leon, who spent $8.5 million to acquire the statuesque filly, spent part of the day winging over the skyscrapers of Dubai with his wife, Silvia, in a helicopter owned by one of the sons of Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.

At the same time, jockey Jose Lezcano was perched above the spectacular racecourse grounds in his room at the Meydan Hotel, gazing across the track where he will be competing against the best riders from every continent and trying to make history in the world’s richest race, which has never been won by a filly.

Both owner and rider were brimming with excitement.

“We’re counting the hours—there are only about 28 left,” Leon said in late afternoon. “It’s wonderful to be part of such a high-caliber competition. I’m going to enjoy the race no matter who wins.

“It would make history if she wins. We don’t know if she’s good enough to do it, but we would never find out if we didn’t try,” he added. “The rest is up to her and God.”

“This is unbelievable,” said Lezcano, the 26-year-old alumnus of the Laffit Pincay Jockey School in his native Panama. “You look out the window and everything is so different.”

Both have paid their respects to Royal Delta, who is housed in Dubai World Cup Quarantine Barn 3 with some of the other American runners, and they clearly have strong feelings for the daughter of Empire Maker.

“I watched her work the other day and I went and saw her as she was cooling out,” Leon said. “When she went back to her stall, I stayed with her for about an hour. Even when she standing still, it’s a great feeling to see her. Seeing her move—it’s a super great feeling. Thinking about the babies she will give in the future—that’s even more exciting.”

Team Royal Delta - Photo by Michele MacDonald

Leon made the decision to race Royal Delta against many of the world’s best male runners, a bold move that most American owners would not even consider, after he bought Royal Delta and conferred with trainer Bill Mott. The Hall of Fame conditioner, who won the inaugural Dubai World Cup with Cigar, believes Royal Delta is well suited to the challenge of the $10 million race over 2000 meters (about 1 ¼ miles).

“Bill Mott told me the filly had a real chance, and I’ve always been a competitor all my life,” Leon said. “The role of an owner, when one is lucky enough to have a horse like this, is to give her an opportunity to race against the best horses in the world.”

Leon is staying at the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel, which stands in the blue waters of the Arabian Gulf like a magnificent ship with sail furled in the breeze and where amenities remote controls to summon butlers, walls coated in gold leaf, an underwater restaurant and a fleet of white Rolls Royces. He has found every aspect of his stay so enchanting that he already is planning to return to the unique emirate of Dubai.

“The friendships and courtesies extended to us are amazing. We really like Dubai,” he said. “We’re looking forward to coming back without a horse, and if the Lord has it in his plans, we’ll be back with another horse in the future.”

Lezcano already is imagining what it will be like to get on Royal Delta in the field of superstars and ride against the likes of Frankie Dettori, Olivier Peslier, Christophe Soumillon, Yutaka Take, Ryan Moore and Johnny Murtagh, as well as Chantal Sutherland, who will be the first woman to ride in the World Cup.

“This kind of feeling—you cannot explain it,” he said, contemplating the exhilaration of the moment.

But he had plenty of words for Royal Delta.

“She amazes me,” Lezcano declared. “I have a lot of confidence, especially at this distance. I think there’s plenty of pace in the race and I think she’ll do great.”   

Mott has liked everything he has seen from Royal Delta since he arrived in Dubai. Wearing a New York Yankees cap and accompanied by his son, Riley, as he stood by the rail on March 30 for her gallop, Mott’s sentiments were mirrored in his smile.

“You couldn’t ask a horse to look any better than that,” he said.

Bill Mott - Photo by Michele MacDonald

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