ARCADIA, Calif. -- Her name is Royal Delta, race fans, and she could be the latest in a recent line of fabulous females to win Horse of the Year.
The dark bay filly's convincing defense of her $2 million Ladies' Classic title against a star-studded field not only stamped her as the queen of American racing but could crown her as the best of 2012.
She made a compelling argument for it with a 1 1/2-length victory Friday at the Breeders' Cup, and was the only favorite to win in the six world championship races at Santa Anita.
As Horse of the Year, she would be in heady company with Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra and Havre de Grace. But her candidacy will hinge on what happens in today's nine Breeders' Cup races, especially the $5 million Classic.
Royal Delta gave Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his second consecutive win and fifth overall in the Ladies' Classic, putting him in position to sweep the weekend's biggest races, a feat he accomplished last year. He has three runners in the Classic, a race he won last year with Drosselmeyer.
"We're certainly not counting our chickens before they hatch," Mott said. "I think any one of the three has a chance."
Jockey Mike Smith earned his 16th victory in the event's 29-year history, breaking a tie for most wins with fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey.
"I hope to be around a few more years to add to it," the 47-year-old rider said.
Royal Delta was the 8-5 favorite in the field of eight fillies and mares, considered one of the deepest fields among the 15 Breeders' Cup races worth $25 million -- a fact that could bolster her Horse of the Year chances. She ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.80. She won by 2 1/2 lengths last year with Jose Lezcano astride.
This time, Royal Delta took charge early, making her way to the lead on a brisk pace. Turning for home, it appeared My Miss Aurelia and Include Me Out were going to overtake Royal Delta, but Smith applied a left-handed whip and she dug in gamely to hold off the challenge.
"She's just brilliant, she really is," Smith said. "I was always taught when you're on a talented horse stay out of their way. I felt confident all the way around there."
Six different jockeys, trainers and owners won each of the Breeders' Cup races in front of 34,619 fans on a sunny day.
The biggest upset was Calidoscopio's 4 1/4-length victory in the $500,000 Marathon, jockey Aaron Gryder's first Breeders' Cup win. The 17-1 shot from Argentina paid $36.40 to win and at 9 became the oldest Breeders' Cup champion.
Age also played a part in the second-biggest upset. Sent off at 15-1 odds, Hightail kicked off the two-day world championships with a nose victory in the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint, giving Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas his leading 19th Breeders' Cup victory at 77.
"At my age it's significant," Lukas said. "I still have the passion for it and I train every day and ride every day. I'm not going to retire. I'm going to ride out there one morning, fall off the pony. They will harrow me under and if the harrow goes over me a couple of times that will be the end of it."
In the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf, 11-1 shot Flotilla rallied to win by 1 1/4 lengths, and trainer Mikel Delzangles and jockey Christophe Lemaire, both from France, won their first Breeders' Cup race.
Zagora won the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf by three-quarters of a length at 9-1 odds. Beholder led all the way to win the $2 million Juvenile Fillies, holding off 3-2 favorite Executiveprivilege by one length.