By MICHAEL COMPTON
Racing fans at Gulfstream Park this afternoon will be treated to three graded stakes races, two of which feature returning Breeders’ Cup winners Royal Delta and Perfect Shirl.
Royal Delta, the 3-year-old Eclipse champion filly of 2011 and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (G1), makes her seasonal bow in the $100,000 Sabin Stakes (G3). Following her BC victory last November, Royal Delta was purchased for $8.5 million by Benjamin Leon and his Besilu Stable.
The 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker is trained by Bill Mott, who also trained her last season. Mott is using today’s race as a prep for Royal Delta prior to taking on the boys, including 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Animal Kingdom, in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) March 31 in the United Arab Emirates.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Mott. “I’d like to see a good, solid effort in this race so we can look forward to Dubai.
“She’s doing very well,” he added. “She’s had a bit of a rest but her recent works have been good. She’s showed she is willing to go long, willing to work, and she looks good doing it.”
Royal Delta faces defending Sabin champ Awesome Maria, who is making her first start since suffering a condylar fracture to her left foreleg during a workout last year after winning the Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park in June.
“She’s training exceptionally well,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “She likes this track, so we’re optimistic.”
Fred and William ‘Buff’ Bradley’s Groupie Doll has a recency edge over Royal Delta and Awesome Maria. A daughter of Bowman’s Band, Groupie Doll has already turned in two strong efforts at Gulfstream Park this season, including a strong runner-up finish to Boys at Tosconova last time out. She will be ridden by Calvin Borel.
“She worked as good here Saturday as she has since she got here,” said Bradley, who co-owns and bred the mare with his father. “We’ve been pointing for the race for quite some time, although not knowing it would come up this tough. She’s very fast and we are looking forward to the race.”
Also on Saturday’s program, Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) winner Perfect Shirl makes her 2012 debut for trainer Roger Attfield. Charles Fipke’s homebred daughter of Perfect Soul (IRE) returns in the $100,000 Very One Stakes (G3) at 1 3/8 miles on the turf.
“Mr. Fipke wanted to go to Hong Kong after the Breeders’ Cup,” Attfield said. “We were late getting the blood work done, so we had to cancel that trip. Then she was training so well, we made plans to go to Argentina (Dec. 17 for the Gran Premio). It turned out to be a mess. There were many cancelled flights. We would now like to go to Dubai with her. I feel a start in the Very One will give me five weeks to get ready for Dubai.”
Perfect Shirl raced seven times in 2011 for her connections but her lone victory came in the Breeders’ Cup.
“She’s interesting,” commented Attfield. “She’s tricky to train. We nicknamed her Squirly Shirley. She’s a small, wiry little filly and just started getting good at the end of last year.
“She’s probably not at her best,” he added. “But I feel this race will really bring her along and get us to Dubai.”
Rounding out the stakes action on Saturday’s card is the $250,000 Davona Dale Stakes (G2). Grace Hall, second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) behind Eclipse champion My Miss Aurelia, makes her initial start of the season for trainer Anthony Dutrow. The daughter of Empire Maker won her three previous starts, including the Spinaway Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, prior to her loss in the Breeders’ Cup.
Disposablepleasure, a winner in her last two races, is a daughter of Giacomo in the Pletcher barn. Julien Leparoux takes over in the irons as Ramon Dominguez sticks with Grace Hall.