Royal Ship to either Awesome Again or straight to Breeders' Cup Mile

Royal Ship, winner of the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in July and two other stakes over the past 18 months, isn’t a surefire starter at the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes in Santa Anita on October 1 and could make its way to Keeneland on November 5. Next appearance at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

“I’m looking awesome again, but I’m not sure,” trainer Richard Mandela said on Friday.

If he starts, the Royal Ship will have the lead in an astonishing $300,000 Again Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. In the 1 1/16-mile San Diego, Royal Ships closed from seventh in a field of nine and won by 2 1/4 lengths over Country Grammar, the winner of the $12 million Dubai World Cup in March.

On September 3, Country Grammar and Royal Ship were second and third from the flightline in an epic race of the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar, a distance of 1 1/4 miles. Flightline won the $1 million race by a record 19 1/4 length over-country grammar, which was seven lengths away from the Royal Ship.

The winner of the Awesome Again Stakes receives a fee-paying berth for the BC Classic on November 5, but that race, a distance of 1 1/4 miles, and an expected meeting with Flightline, Mandela about the Royal Ship is not in his mind.

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“It will be the Dirt Mile, if anything,” Mandela said of Breeders’ Cup race plans.

Apart from Country Grammar, other candidates for Awesome Again include Defended, Express Train, Slow Down Andy and Tripoli.

Slow Down Andy is expected to be only 3 years old in the field. Trained by owners and breeders Paul and Doug O’Neill for Zilla Raddam, Slow Down Andy won the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on September 3 at Del Mar over a distance of 1 1/8 miles on turf.

The idea of ​​running against older horses isn’t a concern for O’Neill.

“He’s in a good field and having a good time now,” O’Neill said on Friday. “It’s in our backyard. He runs well on turf and dirt. I don’t think distance will be a problem.”

The Awesome Again is part of a blockbuster opening weekend of the Santa Anita Autumn Meeting, which begins Friday, Sept. 30. There are nine bets worth $100,000 or more on October 1-2, and five bets worth $200,000 or more on October 8-9.

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