Fox Hill Farms downsized its operation following the death of owner Rick Porter in 2021, keeping only a limited number of horses in training, among them Royal Ship , a graded-stakes winner co-owned with Siena Farm.
Royal Ship continues to represent Fox Hill Farms well, particularly July 30 at Del Mar, where the 6-year-old gelding upset the $302,000 San Diego Handicap (G2) by outrunning Dubai World Cup Sponsored By Emirates Airline (G1) winner Country Grammer by 2 1/4 lengths.
The victory was his second in three races this year, following a win in the John Shear Stakes at Santa Anita Park in April, with a third in the May 30 Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes (G1) between the scores.
Congratulations to Royal Ship @Fox_Hill_Farm @mikeesmith10 @MandellaGary , from the John Shear Mile to the prestigious San Diego Handicap 😊
— John Shear (@SApaddock) July 31, 2022
Though the veteran campaigner has run a number of top races, winning a group 1 in his native Brazil and taking the 2021 Californian Stakes (G2) over Country Grammer at Santa Anita, Saturday’s San Diego was arguably the best performance of his 18-race career. He defeated grade 1 winners in Country Grammer, Mandaloun , and There Goes Harvard with relative ease.
Wide and seventh into the first of two turns, he vaulted past rivals into fourth entering the backstretch while Defunded set an opening quarter-mile in :23.71, chased by Stilleto Boy and Country Grammer.
Abel Cedillo on Defunded attempted to open up some breathing room with a half-mile in :47.44, forcing jockey Juan Hernandez on Stiletto Boy and John Velazquez on Country Grammer to urge their mounts to keep up.
But Mike Smith on Royal Ship wasn’t working nearly as hard, and with a four-wide, second-turn blitz behind a six-furlong split in 1:11.19, Royal Ship set sail. He opened up in the stretch and won comfortably while appearing to idle late.
“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.”
The son of Midshipman raced 1 1/16 miles on a fast dirt track in 1:42.75, paying $21 for a $2 wager.
Smith and trainer Richard Mandella, both Hall of Famers, each notched their second victories in the San Diego. Smith previously piloted 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo to win the race for trainer John Shirreffs. Gary Stevens rode Mandella’s 2015 San Diego winner, Catch a Flight .
Mandella’s son, Gary, saddled the winner for his father, who is at home recuperating from COVID-19. Gary has been running the stable for the better part of the past week.
Favored Country Grammer, making his first start in more than four months, fought on Saturday to be a clear second, 4 1/4 lengths ahead of Stilleto Boy in third.
2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner Mandaloun rallied mildly for fourth after he was shuffled back in traffic when tugging at jockey Florent Geroux entering the first turn.
Defunded tired to seventh.
Bred by Haras Belmont in Brazil, Royal Ship is out of the Val Royal mare Bela Val , who also produced graded winners in Brazil in Royal Forestry (Forestry ) and King Four (Siphon (BRZ ). Royal Ship is her richest earner, making $570,405 from eight wins, two seconds, and four thirds.
The San Diego serves as Del Mar’s prep for the seaside track’s $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (G1) at 1 1/4 miles Sept. 3. Royal Ship ran seventh in the 2021 Pacific Classic.
“We’re going to enjoy this and figure the next race after that; this is a good one, and we’re gonna enjoy it for a while,” Gary Mandella said.