Long shots American Theorem and Royal Ship ruined trainer Bob Baffert’s afternoon on Saturday.
And Baffert saw it coming.
American Theorem won the Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes with Baffert’s 8-5 favorite Shaaz finishing fourth in the nine-horse field.
Then, Royal Ship, who had never finished better than third at Del Mar, won the Grade II San Diego Handicap with Baffert’s 2-1 favored Country Grammer running second.
Trained by George Papaprodromou, American Theorem was an 7-1 long shot. Richard Mandella’s Royal Ship left the gate as a 9-1 long shot.
Joe Bravo rode American Theorem to a 1½-length win over Get Her Number after running fifth halfway through the $400,000, 6-furlong sprint for older horses. With Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith aboard, Royal Ship finished 2¼ lengths ahead of Country Grammar.
American Theorem’s victory clinched the 5-year-old son of American Pharoah a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The Richard Mandella-trained Royal Ship, a 6-year-old Brazilian-bred gelding, could next be seen in the Sept. 3 Grade 1 Pacific Classic if history holds.
“We’re going to enjoy this and figure out the next race,” said assistant trainer Gary Mandella of Royal Ship’s future. “This was a good one and we’re going to enjoy it for a while.”
Gary Mandella has been standing in for his father while the senior Mandella has been away from the track for the last week while recovering from COVID-19.
Royal Ship was running just behind Country Grammer the length of the backstretch and around the far turn of the 11/16-mile test for older horses. Both horses made their moves entering the stretch.
“I wasn’t going to take anything away from him today,” said Smith of Royal Ship. “If he wanted to go, he could go. He was rolling on the backside and just kept going. I hope this helps Mr. Mandella feel better.”
Stilleto Boy finished third in the San Diego followed by Mandaloun, who won the 2021 Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit was disqualified. Mandaloun was more than seven lengths behind the winner. Reigning Pacific Classic champion Tripoli was sixth.
On the eve of the San Diego Handicap, Baffert said the distance of the race might not be ideal for Country Grammer, who hadn’t raced since finishing first and second in two races worth $32 million last spring.
“He prefers going 1¼ miles,” said Baffert. “But he’s had a long layoff and needs a races. Sometimes you just have to run the race that is there.”
Baffert also had concerns for Shaaz when the 4-year-old son of Uncle Mo drew the No. 2 gate for the Bing Crosby — which actually became the inside post when Desmond Doss was scratched. Shaaz was eighth out of the gate.
“American Theorem just wanted to run,” said Bravo, who teamed with Papaprodromou to win two races on Saturday’s 11-race card. “He was comfortable and moving easy on the backside. And then we came to the turn, I didn’t think I wanted to go six wide, but he just had this momentum and just kept going.
“I got real nervous though. I dropped my stick on the turn, but he didn’t need it.”
Meanwhile, Baffert’s concern about drawing the inside post for Shaaz might be supported by some early statistics from the summer meeting. The first gate has produced only two winners in the first 53 races. Only four winners have started from the second gate.
Most of the winners this weekend have been running toward the middle of the track down the stretch.
The second weekend concludes today with the Grade II Eddie Read Stakes, a 1¼-mile turf race for older horses.
The field includes four horses with recent success.
The Irish-bred Hong Kong Harry is coming off a win in the Grade III American Stakes at Santa Anita on June 19 and will have Ramon Vazquez up.
Cathkin Peak, another Irish-bred, won an allowance race at Santa Anita on June 18 after finishing third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar last Nov. 27. He will have turf specialist Umberto Rispoli in the saddle.
Beyond Brilliant won the Grade II Charlie Whittingham at Santa Anita last April and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.
And Masteroffoxhounds (Hernandez) placed third in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile after finished second to Beyond Brilliant in the Whittingham.
Center is a freelance writer.