Country Grammer Schools Rivals in Dubai World Cup

Sat, 03/26/2022 - 14:47

On paper, it was horseracing's version of the 'Dream Team.'

Trainer Bob Baffert, a three-time winner of the G1 Dubai World Cup, and the charismatic Frankie Dettori, still riding at the peak of his powers into his early 50s, also with three World Cup trophies to his name. Each of those victories was achieved as the retained rider for Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor, but the Italian maestro hadn't hoisted the hardware since Electrocutionist (Red Ransom) took the 2006 renewal at old Nad Al Sheba Racecourse.

Flavien Prat was in the irons when Country Grammer (Tonalist), winner of last year's GI Hollywood Gold Cup, came home a gallant second to Emblem Road (Quality Road) in the Feb. 26 G1 Saudi Cup first off a May absence. With Prat committed to G2 Al Maktoum Challenge R2 winner Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow) and with other top-drawer riders having been snapped up, Baffert reached out to Dettori.

Strange bedfellows? Maybe so, but an effective combination it was, as Dettori gave the 5-year-old entire a positive ride and Country Grammer did the rest, running past a tiring 'TDN Rising Star' Life Is Good (Into Mischief) before holding off a resurgent Hot Rod Charlie to score by 1 3/4 lengths. Chuwa Wizard (Jpn) (King Kamehameha {Jpn}) couldn't quite add an incredible sixth victory on the program for his country, but covered himself in glory once again, finishing third after filling the runner-up spot 12 months ago. Life Is Good failed to see out the trip after setting a strong early pace and settled for fourth.

The World Cup win was especially sweet for Amr Zedan, who has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows the Thoroughbred business can throw at an owner, all in the space of nine months. Having lost GI Kentucky Derby first-past-the-post Medina Spirit (Protonico) to a fatal incident last December, Zedan bought into Country Grammer with an eye on the 5-year-old's participation in the Saudi Cup in his homeland. On Saturday four weeks removed from the Saudi Cup and 600 miles of desert to the east in Dubai, all his emotions came to the surface.

“This win reminds me of Medina Spirit,” Zedan said. “He was a champion and these horses are all heart. I hope Medina Spirit is reinstalled as the Kentucky Derby winner, God willing. I can't believe I'm sitting here and my silks are here!”

An Inside Ride…

Heading into Saturday's race, the majority opinion was that if Life Is Good was to be stymied in adding the World Cup to the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and GI Pegasus World Cup, it would be because he beat himself. Gate one was potentially a fly in the ointment, but the burly 4-year-old pinged the gates and was allowed to make the running from off the rail, with Saudi Cup third Midnight Bourbon (Tiznow) his bay shadow. Hot Rod Charlie was momentarily closest to the dueling leaders, but Dettori had made a key decision from the start to be positive with Country Grammer, hustling him along before railing through underneath Hot Rod Charlie to sit the box-seat trip.

There were no significant changes in the plot as they raced down the Meydan backstretch, as Life Is Good looked to be bowling along comfortably, still in the two or three path and going apparently better than Midnight Bourbon. Country Grammer was shaken up a touch with about a half-mile to race so as not to lose touch, while Hot Rod Charlie hit a flat spot at the three-eighths and looked to have run his race.

Life Is Good turned them in with a touch more than 400 meters to race, having once and for all turned away Midnight Bourbon. But as they entered the final furlong, it was clear that the favorite was running on fumes and was there to be had. Back into the bit, Hot Rod Charlie made ominous headway up the fence to loom a danger, but Country Grammer–a bit one-paced in upper stretch–did the best work and was along in time. Chuwa Wizard, near the tail early on, slalomed his way home to cash another good check.

“When the draw came out, I had just wanted to put him on the fence,” said Dettori, who treated the many fans on hand to one of his patented flying dismounts. “At the half-mile, I wasn't able to keep on with the front two, but in the end they came back to me. At the furlong pole, it was surreal as I knew I was going to win. It's just unbelievable. It's like a dream!”

Dettori won his first World Cup in 2000 aboard Dubai Millennium (GB) (Seeking the Gold) and added the 2003 renewal aboard Moon Ballad (Ire) (Singspiel {Ire}). He is now tied with Jerry Bailey for most World Cup wins by a jockey.

Longtime Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes oversaw Country Grammer's preparation into the World Cup, having also been along for the ride with Arrogate (Unbridled's Song) five years ago.

“It's been a long trip, Frankie just rode him awesome,” said Barnes. “He couldn't have done any better. The speed worked out just as we thought it would, he put him in a close enough spot that when he called upon him, he's a true mile-and-a-quarter horse and it kicked in.”

He added, “I give a lot of credit to Bob Baffert for his ability to come back and perform, it's what we do, we're great off a lay-off. I'm just so excited. This is my second with Bob and it is very, very special.”

Trainer Doug O'Neill suggested that some equipment changes might be in the offing for the runner-up.

“I think maybe blinkers might need to go back on–he broke okay, but then when he got behind horses, maybe that was it,” he said. “[Jockey] Flavien [Prat] said he took the kickback pretty well though, so we'll re-group and we'll give him plenty of time now and we'll huddle up and think of a game plan.”

Life Is Good's rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. put the defeat down to his mount's stamina. “We led like we wanted. It was just the distance. The extra distance told,” he said.

The Finished Product…

A $60,000 Keeneland September graduate, Country Grammer fetched $450,000 as an OBS April breezer and would go on to win the GIII Peter Pan S. for Paul Pompa and Chad Brown in the summer of 2020. Following Pompa's sad passing late that year, Country Grammer changed hands for $110,000 at the dispersal of the owner's racing and breeding stock at Keeneland January in 2021, a number WinStar's Elliott Walden called 'surprising.' Second while racing handier to the pace than he had before in the GII Californian S., he stretched out nicely to 10 furlongs and struck from close up to take out the Hollywood Gold Cup before hitting the shelf. So well was he training that the decision was made to send him to Saudi without a prep and that approach has been richly rewarded.

(Article via Thoroughbred Daily News)