Richard Mandella won the Native Diver Handicap seven times from 1983-2003. But he hasn’t saddled the winner of the event since. Not in its seven editions at Del Mar following the demise of Hollywood Park, and not since it became the Native Diver Stakes three years ago.
The Hall of Fame trainer has, however, a solid chance to end the drought and put his name on the Del Mar record for the race with representatives Extra Hope and Royal Ship in a compact field for Saturday’s 42nd running of the $100,000, Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile main track test.
Four older males and the 3-year-old filly Stellar Sound were entered Sunday. The Native Diver, named for the 1978 Hall of Fame inductee, whose accomplishments included winning the San Diego Handicap from 1963-65, will go as the second of nine races on the program.
Mandella has saddled U.S.-bred horses to Native Diver victories – Menswear (1983), Hopeful Word (1986), Best Pal (1994) and Olmodavor (2003). He also has sent out South American imports to win – Argentine-breds Gentlemen (1996), Refinado Tom (1997) and Chilean-bred Puerto Madero (1998).
Saturday’s duo is a combination of both. Kentucky-bred Extra Hope, a 4-year-old son of Shanghai Bobby owned by the Jay Em Ess Stable of Samantha Siegel, finished second in last year’s Native Diver and will be making his third start of 2020. Brazilian-bred Royal Ship, from the Don Alberto Stable of Unique Bella success among others, arrived from South America for his U.S. debut with a third-place finish in the Del Mar Mile Handicap (G2) on Aug. 23. The 4-year-old son of 2008 Del Mar Futurity winner Midshipman was no factor when seventh in the City of Hope (G2) on Sept. 26 at Santa Anita. Both were one-mile turf stakes won by the very sharp Mo Forza.
Royal Ship made his racing debut in July of last year in Brazil on dirt but was switched to turf for the next eight.
“Royal Ship did really well his first time out here and we were happy, but the second time he got tangled up and didn’t run so good,” Mandella said. “He’s always trained well on dirt so we’re going to see how he handles it in the afternoon.
The Native Diver was the fifth start of a 2019 campaign that began in January for Extra Hope. He then was away from racing until an August optional claimer here followed by a victory, with a much improved Beyer Speed Figure, at the same level at Santa Anita in September.
“He’d had a good (2019) run and needed a rest. Nothing critical to be taken care of,” Mandella said of the layoff. “We were really disappointed with his first start back, but then he was perfect in the second one.”
Extra Hope has a more forwardly placed running style, while Royal Ship comes from off the pace.
“I don’t think they’ll bother each other,” Mandella said.
The field from the rail with jockeys and odds in parenthesis: Combatant (Umberto Rispoli, 8-1); Stellar Sound (Tyler Baze, 6-1); Royal Ship (Mike Smith, 4-1); Midcourt (Victor Espinoza, 4-5), and Extra Hope (Juan Hernandez, 3-1).
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