Despite his low morning line odds, Royal Ship's three races on Santa Anita's main course make this 6-year-old gelding hard to overlook in the Grade 1, $400,000 Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes at Santa Anita on Memorial Day.
Royal Ship gave some disappointing efforts at Del Mar last summer before going on the shelf. But at Santa Anita, Royal Ship transforms into a legitimate Grade 1-level runner who can fight well in the stretch run.
For example, take a glance at Royal Ship in last year’s Hollywood Gold Cup. Even though Royal Ship lost, he battled hard against the highly-respected Country Grammer in the stretch and only lost by a head.
Royal Ship finished second, but in reality he lost nothing in defeat. Country Grammer, who is a Grade 1-quality horse, just found a little bit more.
Country Grammer took the rest of 2021 off. This year, he was sent overseas to finish second in the Saudi Cup and capture the Dubai World Cup in March. Those two races from Country Grammer earlier this year flatter Royal Ship’s runner-up effort in the Gold Cup last summer.
Royal Ship also shows a 129 TimeformUS Speed Figure for finishing second in last year’s Hollywood Gold Cup. If he repeats the 129 TimeformUS figure on Monday, it will take a huge effort to beat him.
Before the Hollywood Gold Cup last year, Royal Ship also beat Country Grammer by a neck in the local Californian Stakes (G2) after another exciting stretch battle. For those two races, the two runners were nearly inseparable from each other.
As for Royal Ship’s third local main-track victory, this year off a 232-day layoff, he easily won the John Shear Mile Stakes by five lengths on April 10. Even though Royal Ship “only” shows a 124 on TimeformUS for the easy win, he should move forward for trainer Richard Mandella in his second start off the bench.
With Mike Smith on board, expect Royal Ship to sit near the pace, possibly in third and about a length or two off the leaders. If Stilleto Boy is loose, Smith can even ask Royal Ship for more run early and set up another stretch duel similar to the one with Country Grammer last year.
Now to discuss the 4-year-old gelding Stilleto Boy, whose three career wins all came while setting the pace. Just last month, Stilleto Boy won by 2 1/4 lengths over this year's Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Express Train after controlling the front in the Californian Stakes (G2).
One big concern though for Stilleto Boy is his Santa Anita Handicap effort before the Californian, as he went from 1 1/2 lengths behind the leader around the far turn to a fading nine lengths behind at the end. Perhaps this son of Shackleford prefers the nine-furlong distance.
To discuss Defunded briefly, the gelding formerly trained by Bob Baffert came off a 273-day layoff to win a local May 8 optional claimer by an easy 3 1/2 lengths. He did earn a career best 123 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the effort, but that number is a slight tick below Royal Ship and Stilleto Boy.
Now trained by Sean McCarthy, Defunded could pick up second if either Royal Ship or Stilleto Boy fail to fire. If the race must be played vertically, then a Royal Ship over Defunded exacta is logical enough since Defunded over Stilleto Boy will barely pay anything if it hits.
If a straight exacta does not sound appealing, consider a straight double with Count Again in the Shoemaker Mile (G1). Count Again started off his season successfully by winning the Thunder Road Stakes and Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes (G1), before shipping to Keeneland in mid-April and finishing sixth by less than two lengths in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1).
Count Again is trained by Phil D'Amato and owned by Agave Racing Stable and Sam-Son Farm. The same owners also own Dance Some Mo. Perhaps Count Again’s connections can use Dance Some Mo as a rabbit to help soften Smooth Like Strait, although he does not give the impression of a speedy runner on paper. In addition, Count Again has a third stablemate in Masteroffoxhounds, and he could add to the pace.
Royal Ship is 6-5 on the morning line of the Hollywood Gold Cup, but those odds are probably fair given his narrow loss in this race against a quality opponent last year and his ability to pop a TimeformUS figure in the 130 range when competing at Santa Anita. Given Stilleto Boy is no bargain on the morning line either, Royal Ship is the choice.
Win: 2 (at even money or higher)
Double: 2 / 2