August 13, 2022

Country Grammer closes as Life Is Good fades in Dubai World Cup

Country Grammer beats Hot Rod Charlie (right), Chuwa Wizard (left), and Life Is Good in the Dubai World Cup (Dubai Racing Club)

For the first 1 1/8 miles of Saturday’s $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1), Life Is Good looked like a good thing. The odds-on favorite was cruising on an isolated lead, until deep stretch at Meydan, when his stamina began to ebb away. But co-owner WinStar Farm’s other interest, Country Grammer, was just kicking into gear. The 9-1 chance rallied to give trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Frankie Dettori their fourth World Cup trophies – and first together.

Hot Rod Charlie and Japan’s Chuwa Wizard also speared through late to overtake Life Is Good and snare second and third, respectively. Life Is Good went from likely winner to fourth in about a sixteenth of a mile.

Dettori’s three prior wins all came during his association with Godolphin, aboard Saeed bin Suroor trainees Dubai Millennium (2001), Moon Ballad (2003), and Electrocutionist (2006). Baffert’s previous winners were Silver Charm (1998), Captain Steve (2001) and Arrogate (2017).

Country Grammer is the second World Cup winner for WinStar Farm, after homebred Well Armed (2009). The son of Tonalist races for a partnership including Amr Zedan’s Zedan Racing and Commonwealth TB. Zedan is best known for campaigning ill-fated Medina Spirit, and he’s been a robust supporter of the embattled Baffert. Ironically, Baffert was the original trainer of Life Is Good, until connections transferred him early last summer.

Sporting the Zedan silks, Country Grammer was well placed in a rail-skimming spot just behind Life Is Good. Midnight Bourbon stalked the favorite on the outside, while Hot Rod Charlie was reserved a little further off the pace.

Life Is Good spurted away into the stretch, still galloping with gusto in his first attempt at about 1 1/4 miles. By that point, Dettori angled Country Grammer to the outside in pursuit. As the favorite began to tread water, Country Grammer lengthened stride, reeled him in, and drove 1 3/4 lengths clear. The final time of 2:04.97 was by far the slowest of the seven World Cups on the Meydan dirt.

Purchased by WinStar for $110,000 from the Paul Pompa Estate Dispersal at Keeneland January in 2021, Country Grammer has now bankrolled $10,837,320 from his 10-4-2-1 line.

Zedan was ebullient in triumph:

“I mean, I don’t have any voice left after that! 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. 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.

“This win reminds me of Medina Spirit. He was a champion and these horses are all heart. I hope Medina Spirit is reinstalled as the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner, God willing. I can’t believe I’m sitting here and my silks are here!

“I am just very thankful to the entire team and Frankie, who gave him a perfect ride. 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.”

Dettori commented that he’d joined Jerry Bailey for most wins by a jockey in the World Cup.

“I have equaled Jerry Bailey now. All my other three wins came on the Nad Al Sheba track,” Dettori added, “so it’s nice to have a winner at Meydan.

“When the draw came out, I had just wanted to put him on the fence. 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!”

Frankie Dettori hoists his record-tying fourth World Cup (Horsephotos.com)

Hot Rod Charlie, who had to be nudged on the backstretch and lost position, did well to surge on the inside for runner-up honors.

“We wanted to win of course,” trainer Doug O’Neill said, “but we’re super proud and mid-race we were thinking it just wasn’t Charlie’s day. He then re-engaged and got up for second so it was a great night.

“These are one of the few times that you wish horses could talk. I think maybe blinkers might need to go back on,” O’Neill noted. “He broke OK but then when he got behind horses, maybe that was it. (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.”

As Hot Rod Charlie collared Life Is Good by a half-length on the inside, Japan’s Chuwa Wizard nipped him on the outside. Chuwa Wizard was placing for the second straight year, having finished second to Mystic Guide in 2021.

Life Is Good’s rider, Irad Ortiz, summed it up as failing to stay the trip.

“We led like we wanted. It was just the distance,” Ortiz said. “The extra distance told.”  

Brother Jose Ortiz expected Midnight Bourbon to stick on better, but he tired to fifth. Next came locals Remorse and Hypothetical, South American Aero Trem, and Godolphin’s turfistes Real World and Magny Cours, who were never traveling. Grocer Jack was scratched.

Country Grammer had been on the 2020 Triple Crown trail for Pompa and trainer Chad Brown. A good-looking Aqueduct maiden winner at 1 1/8 miles late in his juvenile season, he was a belated fifth in the Fountain of Youth (G2). Country Grammer scored a breakthrough in that summer’s pandemic-delayed Peter Pan (G3), then held at Saratoga, where Mystic Guide was third. He regressed to fifth in Tiz the Law’s Travers (G1), in what turned out to be his final start before Pompa’s passing.

His new WinStar connections switched him to Baffert, and Country Grammer paid dividends in Southern California. He just missed to Royal Ship in the 2021 Californian (G2) off the layoff, but gained revenge by outdueling that rival in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1). Sidelined thereafter, Country Grammer resurfaced with an ultra-game second in the Feb. 26 Saudi Cup (G1). Just as he did last year at Santa Anita, the bay moved forward second time out, on the step up from nine to 10 furlongs.

Bred by Scott Pierce and Debbie Pierce in Kentucky, Country Grammer first sold for $60,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. Bradley Thoroughbreds, agent, had to go to $450,000 to secure him as an OBS April juvenile. The five-year-old is out of the Forestry mare Arabian Song, who is also responsible for Grade 3-placed Joyful Cadence. This is the family of Grade 2-winning Juddmonte homebreds Obligatory and Bonny South.