Defending champion Royal Delta tops a field of six entered in Saturday's $750,000 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park for trainer Bill Mott. The 1 ¼-mile contest will carry Grade 1 status for the first time since 1989.
In her most recent start, the 2012 Eclipse Award-winning older female finished second, beaten five lengths, in the nine-furlong Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 15. Last year in that same race, which again preceded the Delaware Handicap, the dark bay daughter of Empire Maker posted an eight-length triumph.
"She is doing very well," Mott said. "We could not ask for her to be doing any better.
"I would love to see her run in the Delaware Handicap the way she ran in the Fleur de Lis last year. When she runs a good one, she is awesome. She never really runs poorly and I think it gets to the point where we expect her to win, so when she does not, but still runs well, we get a little dumbfounded."
In her other two outings this year, the five-year-old mare was unplaced in the March 30 Dubai World Cup at Meydan and captured the February 17 Sabin at Gulfstream Park by five lengths.
Last year, as part of her championship campaign, the Kentucky-bred won the Del 'Cap by a neck prior to a runner-up effort in the Personal Ensign Handicap and a 9 ½-length triumph in the Beldame Invitational. She concluded her 2012 season by defending her title in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, becoming only the second distaffer in that race's history to accomplish the task.
Mott is encouraged she won over the Delaware surface last year, but he is cautiously optimistic.
"She handled it," the horseman said. "I am not sure it was her best race, but she got the job done. We are planning on shipping down to Delaware the morning of the race. It worked last year, so I think that would be the best approach this year."
If she wins the Del 'Cap, Royal Delta would become the sixth dual winner of the filly and mare summer classic.
And Why Not is coming into the race off a second in the traditional local prep, the 1 ⅛-mile Obeah on June 15. The four-year-old daughter of Street Cry has yet to break through in stakes company but owns three other black-type placings, including a third in last year's Go for Wand at Delaware Park. The bay Kentucky-bred is conditioned by Michael Matz.
"She had a little rest over the winter, and when we brought her back she had a real nice race in the Obeah," Matz stated. "I think a mile and a quarter will be a great distance for her. I know she has only won one race, and that was as a two-year-old, but she has been close a bunch of times.
"The big thing is the distance. She needs a lot of distance. The distance is perfect for her. There are not too many horses that can get at a mile-and-a-quarter. The one thing I know is that this filly can get a mile-and-a-quarter and she had a real nice race over the track last time."
Two other top notch fillies -- Grade 2 heroines Summer Applause and Authenticity -- have been entered in both the Del 'Cap and Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap on the same day at Saratoga. The former, victress of the Top Flight Handicap and Allaire duPont Distaff thus far this season, would have Alex Cintron aboard if she goes in this spot, while Authenticity, winner of La Troienne and runner-up in the La Troienne in her last two, doesn't have a rider listed yet.
The Del 'Cap field is completed by Grade 3 diva She's All In, third in the Fleur de Lis most recently, and Ogden Phipps third-placer Centring.
Two races before the Del 'Cap, seven fillies and mares will go six furlongs in the $100,000 Sweet and Sassy. Winning Image is riding a three-stakes win streak, including a neck wire job in the June 27 Dashing Beauty, and will try to keep it going while improving on her third-place finish in last year's Sweet and Sassy.
Also entered is Dashing Beauty runner-up Vicarious Won and stakes debuter Cabo Time, an optional claiming winner over the track in her past two.