ARCADIA, Calif. — Royal Delta is carrying more than Mike Smith on her back in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff.
The two-time defending champion will try to become the second three-time winner of a race in the event's 30-year history.
A victory would also clinch the Eclipse Award for older female.
Royal Delta faces threats in today's 1⅛-mile race at Santa Anita, including one from her own barn.
Besides Royal Delta, trainer Bill Mott will saddle Close Hatches in the highlight race of the opening day of the year-end world championships.
Royal Delta is bidding to equal Goldikova's record of three straight wins in a Breeders' Cup race. Royal Delta led all the way in winning by 1½ lengths last year, when the race was known as the Ladies' Classic. Its original name was restored this year.
Todd Pletcher is sending out contenders Princess of Sylmar and Authenticity. Royal Delta finished second behind Princess of Sylmar in her last race.
And then there's Beholder — last year's 2-year-old filly champion who is competing on her home track.
Royal Delta has been resilient in bouncing back from a loss. Three times, she has won after a defeat, most recently in July at Del Mar.
"It's not unusual to see her come back and run a huge race after finishing second," Mott said.
EARLY SCRATCHES: Ron the Greek won't run in the $5 million Classic, and Cleburne is out of the $2 million Juvenile. Mott said Ron the Greek has an abscess in his right front hoof. He said it's not a major problem, but the timing of the injury won't allow the 6-year-old horse to run Saturday. Cleburne, trained by Dale Romans, has bucked shins. The condition involves lameness in the front limbs.
HELPING RETIREES: Some trainers and owners are pledging a percentage of their purse earnings to a program that helps retired thoroughbreds. New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, based in Lexington, Ky., has raised nearly $200,000 the past four years to support rehabilitating, retraining and finding homes for retired racehorses. Among the trainers committing a portion of their winnings this year are Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Doug O'Neill and Kiaran McLaughlin. In the Classic, Baffert has pledged to help based on money won by Game On Dude, while Pletcher will contribute if Palace Malice earns part of the purse, as will Zayat Stables with Paynter, another horse trained by Baffert.