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Del Mar: Royal Ship and Mike Smith win San Diego Handicap

DEL MAR — Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, recovering at home from a bout with COVID-19, most likely was feeling much better after watching Royal Ship run away and hide from his eight rivals in Saturday’s $300,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

Sent postward at 9-1 from a 4-1 morning line, Royal Ship made a strong move around the turn for home under another Hall of Famer, jockey Mike Smith, and cruised to a 2 1/4-length victory in his first race since a third-place finish in the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita on May 30 when he was even money.

The San Diego Handicap, the major prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sept. 3, included six graded-stakes winners among the nine runners, including Mandaloun, the first Kentucky Derby winner to run at Del Mar after his Derby victory since California Chrome in 2014. It also included Country Grammer, this spring’s Dubai World Cup winner who was sent off as the 2-1 favorite and finished second.

“I wasn’t going to take anything away from him today,” Smith said. “If he wanted to go, he could go. He was rolling on the backside and just kept going. I hope this win helps Mr. Mandella feel better. He and his son (assistant Gary Mandella) get all the credit with this horse.”

Gary Mandella, who’s been running the Mandella barn for the past week while his father recovers, gave full credit to Smith, who’s ridden Royal Ship in his past 11 races.

“He had a lot of horse under him and he’s keeping the favorite in his sights,” he said. “That’s what makes Mike great, he made all the right calls, put the horse in position he could win and got it done.”

Final time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:42.75 in front of 13,198.

Asked what’s next for Royal Ship, a 6-year-old gelded son of Midshipman, Mandella was non-committal.

“We’re going to enjoy this and figure the next race after that,” he said. “This is a good one and we’re gonna enjoy it for a while.”

The stakes victory was Smith’s 75th at Del Mar, good for 11th among all riders. It was Mandella’s 71st, fifth most among trainers.

Bing Crosby Stakes

Trainer George Papaprodromou says American Theorem is the best horse he’s ever trained, and now that the 5-year-old son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s connections have figured out he covets one-turn races, there might be no stopping him.

After scoring his first stakes victory in the Grade II Triple Bend Stakes at Santa Anita on May 29, American Theorem used a strong surge around the far turn under Joe Bravo to win the $400,000 sprint for 3-year-olds and older and record his first Grade I win.

“We shortened him up a little bit (in the Triple Bend) and it looked like he kind of liked that,” Papaprodromou said after the Triple Bend. “We (also) tried something different, coming off the pace, and it worked out perfectly.”

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