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Royal Delta working faster for title defense

Royal Delta has been training energetically to reverse this loss to Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame (NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)

Royal Delta jogged once around the Santa Anita main track Tuesday in preparation for her bid to the win the Breeders' Cup's marquee dirt race for older fillies and mares for the third consecutive year. The name of the race for fillies and mares has been returned to the original, Distaff, for 2013 after five years as the Ladies' Classic.

Since she was beaten two lengths by Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame on September 28, Royal Delta has reeled off three straight bullet workouts at Belmont Park for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. The return to fast works is part of the plan to get her ready for the Distaff.

"We let her do that," Mott said. "Before the Beldame we slowed her down and I thought I would have enough in her to get the job done anyway, and it wasn't. It seems like when she works a little faster and you let her train a little bit she runs pretty well. I'm hoping that's what the result is this go-round."

Royal Delta has three victories and has finished second twice in six starts this year. She has won 12 of 21 career starts and earned more than $4.6 million. With the Distaff as the season-ending goal for the daughter of Empire Maker, Mott elected a conservative approach in September.

"Her works leading into the Beldame were a little slower. Instead of 46 it was 48," he said. "She was still breezing and going well. She jogged a couple of weeks after the Personal Ensign and we tried to get a little weight back on her, looking forward to this race hoping that we had enough gas left in the tank for this one."

Close Hatches jogged once around the dirt oval during her first visit to the main track at Santa Anita. The daughter of First Defence shipped from New York Monday with three others trained by Mott.

On April 6, Close Hatches extended her unbeaten record to three races with a 3 1/4-length victory over Princess of Sylmar. It was Princess of Sylmar's only loss in seven starts this year.

Mott said that when Close Hatches won the Gazelle at Aqueduct, he had no idea that Princess of Sylmar would emerge as a leader of the three-year-old filly division. However, he did think that Close Hatches was a good one and she enters the Distaff after victories in the Mother Goose and the Cotillion.

"It's not surprising that our filly has come on and done what she's done," he said. "She's won a couple of Grade 1s on her own and she's run very well. I'm very happy with her, a filly who never got her first race until January. We were planning to run her in November of her two-year-old year and we missed out on that. She got a little fever."

Trainer Todd Pletcher was impressed with Princess of Sylmar's first outing over the track at Santa Anita Tuesday morning. The daughter of Majestic Warrior arrived from Belmont Park Monday afternoon.

"I was really, really pleased with the way she came in. Her energy was outstanding. She marched to the track like she'd been here every day," said Pletcher, opting to gallop instead of jog King of Prussia Stable's filly due to her energy level. "I thought her gallop was really enthusiastic. It was just her being in a new place and her being excited to be here, knowing what's going on. She was on her 'A' game today."

After her stunning two-length victory over two-time defending Distaff winner Royal Delta in the Beldame, owner Ed Stanco paid a $100,000 horse of racing age fee to place Princess of Sylmar into the Breeders' Cup program.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Royal Delta and how good she is," said Pletcher, noting he had some concerns about Princess of Sylmar facing older fillies and mares for the first time and turning back to a one-turn race heading into the Beldame. "I wasn't shocked, but it was impressive to watch."

It was the third time a Pletcher-trained horse upset Royal Delta, who also was defeated by Love and Pride in the 2012 Personal Ensign and Awesome Maria in the 2012 Sabin. Pletcher was asked if he had Royal Delta's number.

"No, because we haven't beat her in the Distaff yet," Pletcher said. "(Royal Delta) is a very, very good mare, and I'm sure she'll run her A' race on Friday."

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