On July 20, Kate Dalton enjoyed one heck of a Spa Day.
Down Royal, the lone mare in a seven-horse field, rallied from sixth place to defeat Chief Justice by a neck in the 2 1/16th mile $150,000 A.P Smithwick Grade 1 steeplechase stakes at venerable Saratoga race course.
It marked the fourth straight win and the sixth career victory for the Dalton-trained mare, who was piloted by Dalton’s husband Bernie. Bernie Dalton has sat in the saddle for 18 of Down Royal’s 19 steeplechase starts.
“His plan is to save ground early in case he has to lose it late,” Kate Dalton described. “That is exactly what happened. There are four turns in the race. He stayed on the inside and hugged the rail for three turns and gave ground and came around the outside for the fourth turn. He had built up some momentum, so he didn’t get stopped having to come from the inside.”
July 20 was a sweltering day at Saratoga but Down Royal, who is stabled at the Springdale Training Center in Camden, S.C., is well acquainted with heat.
The win was worth $90,000 and pushed Down Royal, who was also bred by the Daltons, over $275,000 in career earnings. The “W” was Kate Dalton’s second career Grade 1 stakes win, ninth career stakes triumph and her fifth stakes victory at the Spa – Saratoga’s moniker. Saratoga is the Fenway Park or Lambeau Field of horse racing. Any win is special but Saratoga carries extra cache.
Ironically, Down Royal was born in Saratoga Springs, just minutes from the track. In 2013, the Daltons bred their steeplechase mare, Miss Crown, to Breeder’s Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup. That season Bernie Dalton had a Grade 1 win while jockeying Italian Wedding, a son of Alphabet Soup.
“You can’t write this stuff. It sounds like a Disney movie,” Kate pointed out. “We were trying to figure out who to breed Miss Crown to and it just so happened Alphabet Soup, was standing that year at the same farm where we were boarding her. When we decided to breed Alphabet Soup with Miss Crown, our joke was, ‘If nothing else, she’ll be our jumper.’ She has certainly proven to be that.”
The mare “always gives 110%,” Kate praised. “She wears her heart on her sleeve.”
“Zara,” Down Royal’s stable name, also gave Bernie Dalton his 100th career American jump win this past May when he claimed the Henley Hurdle Stakes at the Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville. Dalton, who won the A.P. Smithwick on the week of his 54th birthday, is one of just 41 riders to hit that milestone. Dalton had multiple wins in Europe before he dedicated himself to the U.S. circuit full time in 2004.
Down Royal “has been the apple of Bernie’s eye since the day she was born. It wouldn’t have made any difference if she were slower than a donkey,” Kate shared. “For Bernie to get his 100th win on her was amazing. To get the Grade 1 at Saratoga was even more amazing. It’s very poetic. You don’t even dream about days like these because they never seem to happen.
“For all of the times that it is cold, raining and you don’t want to go out at 4 in the morning, days like these,” Kate concluded, “make up for every one of them.”
It’s doubtful that Kate Dalton had any inkling this was in her future when she first started riding – taking lessons on a chubby, Shetland pony at Natalie Johnson’s Stable on Cold Spring Creamery Road at age 3. Dalton, then Kate Fitzpatrick, grew up riding and working at the stable. She was an excellent competitor in horse shows, but Fitzpatrick was always far more excited about the times she was invited to go on a fox hunt: with its speed and jumping.
“And with fox hunting, it didn’t matter how I looked,” Kate smiled.
After graduating from CB West in 1998, Fitzpatrick started working for Jonathan Sheppard, arguably the most successful steeplechase trainer in American history. Under Sheppard, she became the exercise rider for With Anticipation, a Breeder’s Cup winning turf horse.
“Patience,” Kate learned. “Jonathan never, ever rushed anything. If a horse showed him anything, he would patiently keep at it and let the horse come around. That was a huge lesson.”
Fitzpatrick met Bernie Dalton while both were working at Saratoga in the summer of 2001. In 2005 they hung their own shingle out as trainers, using Camden as their base.
“We had been working part time breaking yearlings for other people,” Kate recalled. “We had saved up a little bit of money and we had two yearlings of our own in 2005. We thought: we could work for other people as usual and work our yearlings at the end of the morning, or we could try to drum up a couple of other clients and go for it ourselves. That’s what we did.”
The Daltons have had success during those last 17 seasons but none more than with Down Royal, who was named for a steeplechase track in Bernie Dalton’s native Ireland. Perhaps their mare had just enough luck of the Irish that, coupled with her speed and heart, produced a consistent winner.