Royal Delta’s recent loss laid open a gamut of emotions among those who knew her in her racing days, worked with her in Coolmore where she was boarded upon retirement from racing, and fans who followed her avidly. That the loss was sudden and unexpected only compounded those feelings.

Foaling complications took her at the age of 9 – too young, especially for a horse of her caliber.

Coolmore, it’s well-known, is a key player in the world of Thoroughbred racing and breeding. Their farm in Ireland, where Royal Delta had lived since her breeding career began, and where she had been bred to Galileo three times, is one I visited in mid-2012.

You don’t have to visit to realize the standard of care given each horse residing on the property, from the stallions who have stalls in what appear to be their own individual barns, to the mares and foals. But having visited and seen the immaculate grounds, the meticulously kept barns, and the long paths lined with trees where the stallions are walked, it was evident how great the standard of care is, as one would expect at any top-notch farm.

I remember my visit there, the serenity of the property, and the reflection of the affinity for the horse that seems to permeate so much of Irish life, and I know without being told – though it was mentioned – that they did all they could for Royal Delta. They did it because she was Royal Delta, and because she was a horse in their care.

Her loss was just one of those inexplicable, unavoidable twists life throws out every now and then.

As reported by Coolmore, after Royal Delta’s three breedings to Galileo, the only one that resulted in a live foal occurred when she had a filly this year. The first time she didn’t conceive, and the second time she aborted.

Her filly is by all accounts healthy, the longed-for result in what should have been only the beginning of the next phase for Royal Delta. Instead, she is the sole direct genetic link to all Royal Delta was on the track and may be as a producer. With Galileo as a sire and a hard-trying, classy dam as a racehorse, with the well-bred Empire Maker as a maternal grandsire, a mix of great DNA is there to give this filly the chance to be a talented runner. What she becomes, this one tenuous link to Royal Delta’s legacy, remains to be seen. The best bloodlines don’t always shake out as hoped.

All the promise is there though: the promise that guides the planning of pedigree crosses, seeking potential nicks, and the dreams that can grow in morning training and hopefully transfer well to afternoon racing success.

But that is years away for Royal Delta’s filly, if it will be at all.

For today, we remember Delta in all her racing brilliance, for what she meant to us, and for the ride she took us on.

She had many shining moments while she raced, but the most special to me involves a day at Churchill Downs when my nephew and I saw her run. She didn’t win that day, but she stood out to him as a champion, and to me because I have a soft spot for top horses descended from Empire Maker. It was also my nephew’s first visit to a track, something I had wanted to introduce him to for a while. But if he ended up enjoying racing, I wanted him to enjoy it because that’s what he felt on his own and not because I overly swayed him.
My nephew was 7 when we saw Delta race on that night card at Churchill, about the same age I had been when being captivated by a horse and her story drew me in. He was drawn in naturally with no prompting from me, but with a strong boost from Royal Delta. I liked her a lot myself, but liked her more for drawing my nephew in and letting us both share a joy in racing.

When I heard of Royal Delta’s passing, I immediately thought of the moment my nephew discovered racing with her on the track before him even before what she meant to me came to mind.

We saw her soar on the track, and reveal all she was capable of there. Yet there’s still a sense that she was not given the opportunity to fulfill all the promise she could have achieved, and that’s what stings about her being gone.

Yet she gave us a lifetime of memories, and that can never be taken away. Rest in peace, Royal Delta. You are missed.