Reflecting on Royal Delta's Dubai World Cup


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.


Leave a Comment:


It is difficult for anyone to really know how much the long trip abroad takes out of a horse. There is climate change, environmental differences, all these things may be hard for a horse to adapt to, especially a horse who is going to run the race of his or her life. Delta had less than a perfect trip and there is no shame in her gallant effort. This is the race I so much wanted to see Zenyatta shoot for, but her owners may have been thinking of the things I just mentioned.

01 Apr 2012 6:48 PM
Bill Two

I applaud the spirit of all those who shipped to Dubai to participate in the World Cup and supporting races.  You talk about gambling, well...that's what it's all about.  Taking a horse out of its' element and shipping it thousands of miles to a strange tract in a strange land with little time to acclimate is taking a huge gamble.  It really boggles the mind when you think about it - a horse like Well Armed, never a world beater here, sure looked like one over there.  Who knew?  I really didn't think any of our horses would win the World Cup, but I was surprised they didn't finish closer.  Who could have predicted the winner with confidence?  All in all, it's a tough gamble for the owner, trainer, horse and rider. Hopefully all of them will return none the worse for wear.

01 Apr 2012 10:03 PM
Mary Zinke

I know there have been comments that Royal Delta was over-matched in the World Cup, but I'm glad she was given the chance to try against some top international routers, after winning her maiden race only a year and a half ago. When I look at her, I think, that's 8.5 million dollars right there, but I know what her owner was buying, besides a very good racing filly, was time. Imagine being able to buy time. He was able to by-pass the years that go into establishing a broodmare band with a few purchases of excellent-pedigreed females. I wonder if the Sheikhs and Kings who beheld her in the walking ring at Meydan tried to improve upon her November purchase price.  I'll admit that Royal Delta is my favorite filly. I love the way she runs. To me, she really shows that she has A.P. Indy in her blood. I may be just a bit biased, but I think she is very special, and I hope her trip will not have taken much out of her. Come back safe. Can't wait to see you here in the U.S. again, beautiful, tenacious, Royal Delta.

02 Apr 2012 1:19 PM

Thats racing!

Welcome home all!

I am still proud of you!!

02 Apr 2012 1:30 PM

Thank you Michele for your coverage of Royal Delta in Dubai and for your beautiful prose.  I wish that RD had had a better trip but most important is that she came out of the race in good shape.  I hope to see her winning some big races this year.  Thanks again for sharing your heartfelt observations.

02 Apr 2012 2:47 PM

There just isn't much you can do when you get boxed in and can't make a move.

“We had a good position but 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," he said. "She gave me a good run at the end but this surface (all-weather) is a little different – it’s a little sticky.”

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02 Apr 2012 4:44 PM

@ ksweatman9 01 Apr 2012 6:48PM

Your comment: "This is the race I so much wanted to see Zenyatta shoot for, but her owners may have been thinking of the things I just mentioned."  I think you are correct that Team Zenyatta would not have wanted to subject Z to such an arduous journey.  

Now, I hope Royal Delta bounces back in good order; the long trip seems to take more out of some than others.

02 Apr 2012 4:52 PM

Congratulations to all the USA horses that ran in the Dubai races!

it's ok, we cannot win all the time

most importantly, our horses came back well, and will race "home sweet home" when I watched the 10,000.000 dollar race, I saw that

there was race riding being done on Royal Delta, the Jockey outside of Royal delta just kept bearing in on Royal delta, and would not give the filly breathing space..then suddenly.. the jockey

made a left turn and bullied royal delta, and if Lescano was not the

quality race rider that he is, then probably damage would be done

to both horse and jockey! guess what, that race was a bull race, not a horse race, Jose keep your head high, we all knew they roughed you and royal delta, lets hope they come over here for the breeders cup!we will show them that we do not ride bull cows in horse races, and we will avenge our defeat, in grand style, "BIG UPS to BILL MOTT, Bob Baffert, Jose Lescano, Chantal Sutherland,

no matter what, we saw what happened, we are still the best!!

lots of love to all of you!!!

02 Apr 2012 7:57 PM

GIO PONTI needed more time over there b fore the race & so did ROYAL DELTA...her connections try n to get back some of that 8.5 million dollars they paid fore her...she needs to throw a JOHN HENRY & A SECRETARIAT to get that kind of bread back!!!...

03 Apr 2012 7:55 PM

What a magnificent mare she is. She takes my breath away.

03 Apr 2012 9:29 PM

Michelle, thank you for your coverage of the Dubai World Cup.  I haven't seen any mention of the number of breakdowns during the World Cup so I feel compelled to bring the subject up.  It was very disconcerting to hear the Sheik talk to the reporter after his horse catastrophically broke down during the turf race and the race had to be stopped due to the horse still laying on the track.  When they re-ran the race, 2 more horses had to be pulled up.  No mention was made of what happened to them.  I wish the reporters would tell the public what happens to the horses when they breakdown.  We are all aware of the dangers of racing and realize it is part of the sport.  Full disclosure is a much better way to handle these incidences instead of pretending like they didn't happen.  Does anyone know what they Sheik does with his race horses that no longer perform on the track?  Do they slaughter horses in Dubai?  Where do they bring the dead horses?  To a landfill like we do here in America?  Just some questions that were going through my mind during this tragic event. Any answers are appreciated.

05 Apr 2012 12:42 PM

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