It goes without saying that it takes an exceptional individual to win Eclipse Awards in three successive years. Among fillies and mares, the feat has only been achieved twice, by Zenyatta (2008-10) and Azeri (2002-04), although Susan's Girl was champion 3-year-old filly of 1972 and then champion older mare in 1973 and 1975. Looking back to the pre-Eclipse Award era, we find only Cicada in 1961-63.
So when we note that Royal Delta looks set to join that august group, it gives some perspective on her talent and accomplishments. The 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker has won 12 of 20 starts (12 of 18 on dirt if we take out two fruitless trips to Meydan for the Dubai World Cup, UAE-I), with four seconds and a third (her only off the board finish on dirt coming in the Suncoast Stakes on her 3-year-old debut). She has wrapped up divisional honors in the past two seasons with decisive wins in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I), by 2 1/2 lengths over a field that included her elders in 2011, and by a 1 1/2 lengths over another outstanding champion, My Miss Aurelia, in 2012.
This term, she kicked off with a five-length romp in the Sabin Stakes (gr. III), and after her shot at the World Cup probably suffered a little post-Dubai bounce when second in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) back in June. She's returned to her very best since then, however, crushing the field by nearly 11 lengths in the Delaware Handicap (gr. I), then defeating the formidable Authenticity by 4 1/2 lengths eased down for the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I). Along the way, Royal Delta also created history when purchased for $8.5 million from Palides Investments (the late Saud bin Khaled) by Besilu Stables (healthcare executive Benjamin Leon Jr.) at the 2011 Keeneland November sale.
The multiple champion also has a distinguished pedigree. She's a daughter of Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner and outstanding sire Empire Maker, and her first three dams—Delta Princess, Lyphard's Delta, and Proud Delta—were all major stakes winners, Proud Delta preceding her great-granddaughter as champion older mare in 1976.
Although we understand that it has not yet been decided for certain, there is a good chance that Royal Delta will begin her stud career in 2014, so we thought that we'd run the supermare through the TrueNicks Key Ancestors program to find "a date for Delta." Perusing the Key Ancestors with Analysis report, one horse that springs out as a natural is Distorted Humor (TrueNicks) (ironically, it was Distorted Humor's son Funny Cide that beat out Royal Delta's sire, Empire Maker, for the champion 3-year-old title). He is the second highest-ranked stallion by TrueNicks rating behind 2010 champion 2-year-old Uncle Mo (TrueNicks), and we're going to pass on the unproven horse here, however talented. In addition to being a successful cross for Unbridled line mares, Distorted Humor has also worked well with mares with a similar background to Royal Delta, so well in fact that he qualifies as a Key Ancestor for her in his own right. Distorted Humor, without giving an extreme sprinter/router contrast, also supplies a little bit of "zip" for a mare who appears to stay 10 furlongs well, and from a pedigree pattern standpoint he is a parallel Mr. Prospector/Northern Dancer to Empire Maker. (Distorted Humor—Royal Delta TrueNicks Enhanced report)
|Key Ancestors with Analysis statistics for Distorted Humor—Royal Delta|
War Front (TrueNicks) is generally thought of as more of a pure sprinter than Distorted Humor, although he did win the 8 1/2-furlong Princelet Stakes by eight lengths as a 3-year-old. His dam could run long, however, and War Front is getting plenty of runners beyond a mile. We recently discussed the potential for inbreeding to Fappiano through similarly-bred sources, and War Front is out of a mare by Fappiano son Rubiano, while Royal Delta is a granddaughter of Unbridled, and War Front already has sired $1.4 million-earner Warning Flag out of a mare by a son of Unbridled. War Front is also a half brother to a graded winner by A.P. Indy, the broodmare sire of Royal Delta. (War Front—Royal Delta TrueNicks Enhanced report)
|Key Ancestors with Analysis statistics for War Front—Royal Delta|
On the subject of A.P. Indy: to inbreed or not to inbreed, that is the question. There is a degree of fascination in considering A.P. Indy sons Bernardini (TrueNicks)—who also gives Fappiano 4x4—or Malibu Moon (TrueNicks)—who has Orb out of an Unbridled mare. Tapit (TrueNicks), a grandson of A.P. Indy, takes the inbreeding to that horse back a generation, but he is out of a mare by Unbridled, so that horse would also be 3x3. Overall, we'd tend not to experiment with an unproven mare, especially one of this value, and especially when it will be for her first foal. So, for the moment, we'll pass on those options and maybe hope that another A.P. Indy grandson who is a little more of an outcross will emerge in the future.
If we broaden our search outside of North America, we come up with two candidates who, like Royal Delta, look sure to have their place in history: Galileo and Deep Impact. A Galileo son or daughter would surely need to race in Europe to truly fulfill its potential, as we'd probably be looking at a 12-furlong turf horse. Still, it would be an interesting challenge, and there is certainly a case to be made, as the Sadler's Wells/Unbridled cross has outperformed (admittedly limited) opportunity, and Galileo ranks #6 by Key Ancestor score. He's also a reverse Northern Dancer/Mr. Prospector cross to Empire Maker. (Galileo—Royal Delta TrueNicks Enhanced report)
|Key Ancestors with Analysis statistics for Galileo—Royal Delta|
Deep Impact doesn't score so highly by Key Ancestor score (-4.28), but he does have group II winner Danon Ballade out of a mare by Unbridled, and he's also had eight stakes winners, seven group, with Lyphard inbreeding, which we also get here. Deep Impact is a grandson of Halo, which does remind us that, although he's not quite at the commercial level for a mare like this, we could see Halo grandson More Than Ready (TrueNicks) working here. He has a positive Key Ancestor score (+14.12), crosses well with Unbridled and A.P. Indy, and, like Distorted Humor, would add speed without being an out-and-out sprinter. He's certainly a very solid prospect to get a young mare off to a good start, especially if breeding to race. (More Than Ready—Royal Delta TrueNicks Enhanced report)
|Key Ancestors with Analysis statistics for More Than Ready—Royal Delta|