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Nov 27, 2013

Up the Backstretch: So long to another great lady

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - The early part of the 21st century in American thoroughbred racing will probably be remembered as the era of the filly and mare.

Since 2008, female thoroughbreds have been the featured horses in racing. Coming into 2013, three ladies have been named Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta and Havre de Grace, over the last five seasons.

This week one of the excellent female runners of the last three years retired from racing to begin her career in the breeding barn.

Royal Delta, two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, now known as the Distaff, hung up her saddle and entered the breeding barn in Florida.

Trained by Hall of Fame member Bill Mott, the 5-year-old mare was in the Horse of the Year talk until she came up short in her last two career starts. After demolishing the field to win her second straight Delaware Handicap and capturing the Personal Ensign Stakes, she lost to leading 3-year-old filly Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame and was fourth to Beholder in the Distaff on Nov. 1.

"We got beat in the Beldame," Mott noted heading into the Breeders' Cup. "We were second and I didn't think she ran her very best race that day, but it was still a credible race. She got beat by a very good filly."

Royal Delta followed on the heels of Zenyatta and Havre de Grace as champion Older Female. Neither Zenyatta nor Havre de Grace ever won the Delaware Handicap, but both ladies defeated male horses, something Royal Delta never had the opportunity to do in this country.

Royal Delta, owned by Besilu Stables, posted take-no-prisoners victories in last year's Beldame and this year's Del 'Cap and remains the leading contender for a second straight Older Female title.

"It is about as easy at it gets," said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith after guiding the mare to a 10 3/4-length victory in the Del 'Cap.

Credentials abound for the champion to eventually find her way to the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga. She gained consecutive Eclipse Awards in 2011 and 2012 after her Ladies' Classics wins and earned more than $4.8 million with 12 wins in 22 starts.

Not too many thoroughbreds are voted champion 3-year-olds and then champion older runner, no matter the sex.

It's never easy to say goodbye to champion athletes, but Royal Delta moves on to another career that allows us to follow her offspring in the Sport of Kings.

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