Country Grammer left clues in last month’s Saudi Cup he was just about back. In Saturday’s Dubai World Cup, he announced in rousing fashion he was all the way back.
The 5-year-old Bob Baffert charge and 9/1 offering in international odds ran down front-running 2/5 favorite Life Is Good over the last furlong of the 1 ¼-mile, $12 million race. The 1 ¾-length victory gave both Baffert and jockey Frankie Dettori their fourth Dubai World Cup victory.
Dettori, who first won the Dubai World Cup in 2000 aboard Dubai Millenium, turned in a virtuoso ride. Following up on his runner-up finish in last month’s Saudi Cup, Dettori put Country Grammer in the perfect position. He let Life Is Good do what Life Is Good does: set the pace throughout. But considering the speed the Into Mischief progeny possesses, it wasn’t a brisk pace: a 24.48-second 400 meters, 48.03 800 meters and 1:11.41 1,200 meters.
And that proved to be Life Is Good’s undoing, because he didn’t put the field away with his speed. Irad Ortiz Jr. opened Life Is Good up at the top of the stretch, looking like he was going to pull away. That’s when the field opened up with him. Dettori called for more and Country Grammer eagerly responded. As he did, Life Is Good receded in mid-stretch, the final furlong that was his biggest question coming in answered in 3D living color. He wound up fourth.
“We led like we wanted,” Ortiz said after the race. “It was just the distance. The extra distance told.”
Hot Rod Charlie saved best for last
Hot Rod Charlie (5/1), who was a non-factor until mid-stretch, rallied hard down the rail under Flavien Prat. He wound up second. Japanese hope Chuwa Wizard (12/1), last year’s runner-up here, finished a half-length behind Hot Rod Charlie in third.
“Frankie just rode him awesome. He couldn’t have done any better,” Baffert assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said after the race. “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. 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.”
Country Grammer won last May’s Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita Park, one of the West Coast’s top races for older horses. Baffert then gave him a 270-day break from racing, although he did work him through June and July. After a July 17 work at Saratoga, Baffert gave the Tonalist progeny the next five months off.
Country Grammer rewards Zedan’s loyalty to Baffert
After the race, Amr Zedan – who co-owns Country Grammer with WinStar Farm and Commonwealth Thoroughbreds – praised Baffert to Fox Sports 2. The first words out of his mouth were “This is all Bob Baffert. …”
“It was a project; we picked the horse and he has come here in the care of the best trainer in the world in Bob Baffert,” said Zedan, the owner of the late Medina Spirit. “Deep down in my gut, I knew we had a shot. I have huge respect for all the others, especially Life Is Good, who I know intimately as he used to train with Country Grammer when he was with Baffert.”
Zedan compared Country Grammer to Medina Spirit, who put Baffert in a semi-pariah status in the racing world with his medication-related Kentucky Derby disqualification. But Zedan has steadfastly stuck by Baffert throughout.
Dettori turned in ‘a perfect ride’
“I am just very thankful to the entire team and Frankie, who gave him a perfect ride,” Zedan said. “He is one of the best, if not the best. Results speak louder than words. A trainer of that caliber is bound to produce such results. I am just dedicating this race to him.”
For more than a mile, Hot Rod Charlie was an afterthought, leading trainer Doug O’Neill to later say it wasn’t his horse’s night. Then, Prat stayed with his rail trip and matters opened up in the stretch.
“He then re-engaged and got up for second, so it was a great night,” O’Neill said afterward. “These are one of the few times that you wish horses could talk. I think maybe blinkers might need to go back on; he broke OK, but then when he got behind horses, maybe that was it. Flavien said he took the kickback pretty well though, so we’ll regroup and we’ll give him plenty of time now.”