By Michele MacDonald
Life doesn’t always follow the path of hopes and dreams.
For Royal Delta’s connections, their history-seeking odyssey in Dubai ended at a stop called disappointment. The champion filly endured a rough trip while impeded and bumped, and wound up “swimming” through the sticky going of Meydan’s all-weather track to finish seventh in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-gr. I) on March 31.
Caption: Royal Delta in the Meydan Paddock
Photo: Michele MacDonald
Still, trainer Bill Mott’s confidence in the ability of the big daughter of Empire Maker was not eroded in the least.
“I’d do it all over again given the same set of circumstances,” Mott said after the race, reflecting on how the World Cup set up and Royal Delta’s predilection for the 2000-meter (about 1 ¼-mile) distance.
As she had been in her entire week of training in Dubai, Royal Delta stood out in the parade ring at Meydan, dancing on her toes, her ears forward with enthusiasm and her bay coat reflecting the lights of the dazzling grandstand.
When Mott gave jockey Jose Lezcano a leg up, Royal Delta arched her neck and appeared ready for the race of her life as she was led by assistant trainer Leana Willaford and stable foreman Mylor Rider. “She swelled up a little bit,” Mott exclaimed in admiration, following the filly’s every move as she strode away to the track.
While a television reporter and cameraman put Mott on live TV to reflect on returning to Dubai after saddling inaugural World Cup winner Cigar and others lobbed questions to owner Benjamin Leon, the parade ring throbbed with the high spirits of many of the most intriguing and dynamic people in the world of horse racing.
Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum visited Mott’s fellow Hall of Famer, Bob Baffert, to wish him well, and they posed for television and still images while the sheikh gestured to his heart and then to Baffert, who was telling everyone he met that “I feel pretty good for a guy who had a heart attack.”
Not far away stood controversial Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who had purchased German Group 1 winner Zazou for the World Cup. Smiling and posing for photos with a few who asked, Kadyrov would later see Zazou finish a good fifth. Subsequently, one of his other five runners on the program, Bronze Cannon, would fatally fracture a leg in the Dubai Gold Cup (UAE-gr.III)
Caption: Ramzan Kadyrov
Photo: Michele MacDonald
Leading Japanese breeder and owner Teruya Yoshida and his wife, Chizu, and son, Tetsuya, were on hand to watch three Japanese-trained horses compete, while Hong Kong Jockey Club executives Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges and William Nader also were in attendance.
Jockey Chantal Sutherland was in high demand as people called out her name, and she tried to greet as many as she could, stopping to pose for photos with men clothed in immaculate white dishdashas and women swathed in black abayas decorated with sparkling sequins and jewels.
Caption: Chantal Sutherland
Photo: Michele MacDonald
And then it was time for the race. The starting gate opened and from then on everything that had gone so well in Royal Delta’s preparations for the World Cup turned all wrong.
In the words of the Emirates Racing Authority’s stewards’ report, which cited more trouble for Royal Delta than any of the other 13 horses in the field:
“ROYAL DELTA (USA) was impeded behind the tiring TRANSCEND (JPN) from the 500m to 400m, and then rounding the home bend, TRANSCEND (JPN) shifted outwards bumping ROYAL DELTA (USA), with ROYAL DELTA (USA) becoming unbalanced, shifting outwards and bumping MENDIP (USA).”
When she crossed the finish line, Royal Delta was seventh, about 7 ¾ lengths behind Godolphin’s winner Monterosso, who had finished third in the 2011 Dubai World Cup. Among those behind her were multiple grade I winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) runner-up Game On Dude, Sutherland’s mount, and Japanese champion Transcend, second in last year’s World Cup.
Walking back to the jockeys’ room Lezcano shook his head, a dazed disappointment in his eyes. Using his arms to gesture in exaggerated dog paddling motions, Lezcano told Mott that’s what Royal Delta felt like under him on the all-weather track.
He was far from the only jockey to cite tiring, sticky conditions on the track during the program; Sutherland also said the surface did not help her horse.
“We had a good position. In the middle of the turn, the horse in front of me quit, so I had to wait a little longer than I wanted to,” Lezcano related. “She gave me a good run at the end.”
More importantly in the larger scheme of life, Royal Delta emerged from the race—as did all the American horses on the program, including Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-gr.I) sprinters The Factor and Giant Ryan and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. II) winner Regally Ready—with no physical problems.
“They’re all OK. The vet didn’t have to treat any of them,” said John Nicholls, who oversees the Dubai World Cup quarantine barn area.
By April 1, Mott and Willaford had already left Dubai. Royal Delta was due to fly out on April 4, returning to New York and, hopefully in the minds of those around her, another championship season in the United States.