As good as Game On Dude looked in the Awesome Again out at Santa Anita, the biggest effort on a big day of racing came from Royal Delta in the Beldame at Belmont. She crushed a good filly in It's Tricky to win by 9 1/2 lengths in what was as good a performance as any horse has turned in this year.
But trainer Bill Mott and owner Benjamin Leon have said they will take the conservative route and run her next in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. That's the safe decision, not the right one. She's too good to not to be in the Classic.
The surprising thing about the decision is that this is not Leon's style. Relatively new to the sport, he wasted little time making a splash when he bought Royal Delta for $8.5 million at the sales last November at Keeneland. He proved again that he likes to aim high when he directed Mott to point her for the Dubai World Cup. While that didn't work out, it was well worth the shot.
She's had some glitches since. After winning the Fleur de Lis, she looked ordinary winning the Delaware Handicap by a neck and then was beaten in the Personal Ensign. But whatever may have been bothering her was nowhere to be found Saturday at Belmont.
Now Leon and Mott are pointing the filly for the $2 million Ladies' Classic, a race she has already won. She'll be the favorite, but it's far from a soft spot. Her competition will include the undefeated fillies Awesome Feather and My Miss Aurelia, as well as Love and Pride, who beat Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign and came back Saturday with a win in the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita. There's also the multiple Grade 1 winner Questing.
Now Leon and Mott are pointing the filly for the $2 million Ladies' Classic, a race she has already won.
The Classic will be tougher still and it will include the Mott-trained Flat Out who won the Jockey Club Gold Cup Saturday for the second straight year. And Game On Dude is very good. But there are no superstars among this bunch. With Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra and Havre de Grace having all beaten males in Grade 1 races in recent years, the idea that a great filly can't beat very good boys has been proven to be silly.
The $5 million Classic is the richest race in North America and it's where the best horses, no matter their sex, belong. Leon and Mott said they will point her to it next year, but why wait? She's at her very best now and healthy and who's to say that will be the situation next year.
The Classic is the right call.
More Super Saturday Observations: Though beaten, Stay Thirsty ran a huge race in the Gold Cup. He set a fast pace and the two who chased him, San Pablo and Ruler On Ice, finished last and next to last. Stay Thirsty kept running hard to the wire and Flat Out had to give everything he's got to get by him.
Stay Thirsty may be the most confounding horse in the sport. He has run some huge races and some terrible races and came into the Gold Cup looking like he was badly off form. Which Stay Thirsty will show up in the Classic?
Give I'm A Dreamer another shot in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. The Beverly D. winner had a terrible trip when fourth in the Flower Bowl and will offer value come Breeders' Cup Day.
I'll Have Another has likely clinched Horse of the Year, but there may be an alternative to him in Joe Hirsch Turf Classic winner Point Of Entry. He's won five in a row, four stakes in a row and three straight Grade 1 races. A Breeders' Cup Turf win would give him one more Grade 1 on the year than I'll Have Another.
Why entries in big races are ridiculous: Why does anyone still think that owners and trainers might play games in order to cash a bet in a Grade 1 race with a $400,000 purse? That's beyond ridiculous but in order to supposedly protect the betting public The Lumber Guy and Sean Avery were coupled in the Vosburgh.
For Sean Avery fans that turned out to be a blessing. He threw out a clunker, but entrymate The Lumber Guy came through and saved the day for the 2-1 coupling. But what about The Lumber Guy's fans? Someone could have easily come up with him as a live long shot in the race and would have gotten about 25-1 had he run as a solo betting interest. Instead, they were forced to swallow $6.20. Ouch.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at email@example.com.