By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Already acknowledged as the top female horse in the United States, Royal Delta will aim to embellish those credentials when she defends her title at the $2 million Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic on Friday.
Twelve months ago, the Kentucky-bred filly broke from the pack in an explosive stretch run to triumph under the lights at Churchill Downs for her fifth win in eight career starts.
Though Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott considered entering her for the marquee Breeders' Classic on Saturday, that plan was shelved and Royal Delta is an overwhelming 9-5 favorite to retain her Ladies' Classic crown as a four-year-old.
"Looking at the competition in there, it's very competitive in both races," Mott told reporters while preparing his impressive array of horses for the two-day Breeders' Cup extravaganza at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.
"I felt that running against the girls was probably the way to go. It's probably a conservative approach, but we have discussed Royal Delta running next year and discussed long ago that if she were doing well to run her in the (2013) Classic.
"I think that is a valid plan. You never know how many races a horse has left in them. She'll be a little older, and if she's in as good a form as she is now, I think we'd be more than happy to take a shot."
Mott, who earned his fourth career victory in the Ladies' Classic thanks to Royal Delta's success and jockey Jose Lezcano's splendid ride in Kentucky last year, felt that race was elite enough in its own right.
"It's not like we're going over there and running for peanuts," said Mott, who will have Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the saddle on Friday. "We're running for a very important race.
"If she were lucky enough to win another one (Ladies' Classic), she sews up another (horse of the year) championship. That, for me, would be wonderful.
"But the fact is that this isn't going to be her last race, and we have another chance to do that (compete in the Breeders' Classic)."
Royal Delta, a daughter of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, gave her connections a brief scare earlier this week when she suffered a slight injury before being transported to California from Newburgh, New York, 60 miles north of New York City.
As she was being backed into her stall on the plane, Royal Delta was cut on her right rear but, according to Mott, she has since been "recovering nicely."
Mott added: "Everything is still good. She's feeling very good. The wound looks good. It's a non-issue."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Steve Ginsburg)