Tag Archive for: Country Grammer

Monday Musings: Of The Rising Sun in Dubai

Plenty of people from the UK still apparently enjoy the experience of Dubai in late March, writes Tony Stafford. A number of my friends and acquaintances, most barely recovered from the bruising four days at Cheltenham – they might baulk at five – were off again for another cash-devouring few days in the Gulf.

They are the same grouping who also find time to contribute to the well-being of the people that own Las Vegas hotels. I always fancied a few days there, but no doubt the funds would immediately run out at the tables and I would need to try to fiddle a replacement flight home without penalty.

The nearest in my lifetime of a similar jaunt was when a school friend, Harry Hillier, a genius who, when he sat his masters’ degree, the rubric asked him to answer at least two of the ten questions on the paper. As the remaining students on his course canvassed each other and revealed they had managed maybe two or three, when they asked Harry, he answered: “Well I did them all, but I wasn’t happy about a couple of them.”

A clever chap, then, but not, as he always conceded, as good as me in our teens at digging out winners. Be it on the horses or on our almost nightly forays to Clapton and other favourites of the many dog tracks in London – more than 20 at the time, I usually had final say on our corporate wagers. He became a university lecturer in econometrics (I’ve still no idea what that is!): at around that time I became Chief Reporter on the Greyhound Express.

My parents – with me – had often holidayed in Ostend, my dad loving the fact the races there in those days went on five days a week and you could walk there from the hotel. Before Harry went off to university and I started my first job, we decided to go there and got cheap flights from Southend Airport.

We had five nights arranged at the sub-budget hotel, but went skint after the first two days, and had to leave, managing to get a replacement flight. I’ve never been back in the intervening almost 60 years and suddenly have the urge to do so. Vegas, Dubai and even Cheltenham, you can keep them. I heard reports of extortionate prices at Cheltenham – someone said £14 for a gin and tonic? – the track obviously trying to get back the losses from 2021. I doubt it was any better value in Meydan.

In most years over the past two decades, all the invading hordes of UK punters needed to wrest back some of that cash at Meydan was to follow the overwhelming power of the home team. Surely Charlie Appleby, champion trainer in the UK for the first time in 2021, would provide them with the requisite winners as usual.

But for once the royal blue of Godolphin did not pass the post in front even once in the seven championship races. The die was soon cast by Charlie and William Buick’s two bankers: Manobo in the two-mile Gold Cup, a 9-4 on flop, was followed 40 minutes later when Man Of Promise, 10-11 in the Al Quoz Sprint, could do no better than third to a couple of Irish and UK challengers.

Ado McGuinness’s 14-1 shot A Case Of You under Ronan Whelan, got the better of the Richard Hannon-trained Happy Promise (20-1). Two more Appleby runners, the Frankie Dettori-partnered Naval Crown who finished fourth, and the team’s second string and race second favourite, Creative Force, who finished 14th of 16 completed their unsuccesful challenge.

Once again on the world stage, the Japanese were out in force, their Stay Foolish, ridden by Christophe Lemaire, outstaying the perceived as unbeatable Manobo, to follow up trainer Yoshito Yahagi’s 66/1 shocker Bathrat Leon in the opening Group 2 Mile.

Manobo, who had so entranced the Racing TV experts when winning his trial for the big race recently, probably still has plenty to offer when returning to Newmarket this summer, but his defeat must have been a severe shock for Sheikh Mohammed as well as his trainer and jockey.

The best performance, Manobo apart, from an Appleby runner was Yibir’s second place behind another Japanese, Shahryar in the Sheema Classic over a mile and a half on the turf track. Christian Demuro had the mount here and the 13/2 shot bravely held off Yibir’s challenge.

Fourth, with Dettori in the saddle deputising for injured regular rider Martin Dwyer, was the William Muir and Chris Grassick runner Pyledriver, beaten a length having looked booked for second 100 yards from home when Yibir started his late rally.

Having won his last three 2021 starts in the Great Voltigeur at York, an Invitation race at Belmont Park and finally the Breeders’ Cup Turf, this was an excellent comeback run by Yibir, but with no feasible representative in a World Cup which was left to the devices of the Americans, the home team’s uncharacteristic blank would have been a severe blow.

Having won the Sprint it was Japan’s turn again two races later, when the 12-1 shot Crown Pride collected the UAE Derby, a Group 2 race over one mile one furlong for three-year-olds on the dirt, under Australian jockey Damian Lane. Saeed Bin Suroor, who had plenty of runners on a card he had often dominated in the days before Charlie’s pre-eminence within the team, saddled the third placed Island Falcon at 33-1.

The unexpected happening in that race was the performance of Bob Baffert’s Pinehurst, returning with another long journey to the Middle East from California following his triumph four weeks earlier in the Saudi Derby over a mile in Riyadh. Starting 7-4 favourite that day, he battled well to land the massive prize.

Here he was a 4-1 joint favourite for a big-money follow up, but obviously went wrong, trailing the field home as a tailed-off last of 16. Baffert, though, would enjoy the last laugh at the meeting, but first let’s deal with a fourth Japanese success.

Their horses were to the fore at the Breeders’ Cup and in Saudi Arabia and, in between the triumphs of Bathrat Leon, Stay Foolish, Crown Pride and Shahryar, front-running Panthalassa (8/1) had to share the honours in the Dubai Turf. He was joined on the line in the one mile, one furlong contest by the Gosdens’ money-spinner Lord North (100-30).

Yet another Japanese, 28-1 shot Vin Du Garde, finished fastest of all a nose behind the dead-heaters. Two more UK runners, multiple Group 1-winning filly Saffron Beach (Jane Chapple-Hyam) and William Knight’s Sir Busker were respectively fourth and fifth, picking up plenty of place money. In Sir Busker’s case, the $150,000 greatly exceeded what he would have earned had he carried out his alternative role and run in and won Saturday’s Lincoln Handicap on the opening day of the 2022 turf season.

Baffert’s day in the sun arrived courtesy of Country Grammer. Having been caught late on by 50-1 home-trained Emblem Road in the Saudi Cup last month, he became the underdog defeating the hitherto regarded as best in the world dirt runner in the mile and a quarter Dubai World Cup.

Life Is Good had won five of his six races before Saturday and the Todd Pledger representative started the 8/13 favourite but ended only fourth, his stamina patently failing him on this first attempt at beyond nine furlongs. Now Country Grammer has total earnings of more than £8 million, but still trails a good way behind Mishriff (£11million-plus) who finished last in the Saudi race he won 12 months earlier.

Back home, everyone and especially the bookmakers, expected William Haggas to collect another Lincoln Handicap with the front two in the betting and another lively outsider to represent him. The third string Irish Admiral, at 22/1, was fourth to the Mick Channon-trained 28-1 shot Johan, who won nicely, with 3/1 favourite Mujtaba only 12th and heavily-backed Ametist finishing last of the 22 runners.

Ironically, Johan had been in the Haggas stable until last autumn when owner-breeders Jon and Julia Aisbitt decided a change of scenery was in order. Channon traditionally has his team in trim for the start of the season even though son Harry declared after the win: “It’s colder at West Ilsley than up here!”  Imagine what Mick will do when they come in their coats!

- TS

Dettori shines as Country Grammer wins World Cup

Country Grammer provided Frankie Dettori with a fourth success in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan.

It is 22 years since the ever popular Italian first won Dubai’s showpiece event aboard the great Dubai Millennium. He went on to add to his tally aboard Moon Ballad in 2003 and Electrocutionist in 2006.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Saudi Cup runner-up Country Grammer was part of a formidable American contingent which was headed by red-hot favourite Life Is Good.

Todd Pletcher’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner had successfully stepped up to nine furlongs in the Pegasus World Cup in January, but faced an even sterner stamina test over Meydan’s mile and a quarter.

Life Is Good got off to his usual fast start and led the field into the home turn, but it was obvious with a furlong to run that the petrol tank was emptying quickly and he faded into fourth place.

Dettori, on the other hand, delivered Country Grammer with a perfectly timed challenge and he was ultimately well on top at the line, with Hot Rod Charlie staying on strongly to finish second and Chuwa Wizard capping a great night for Japan in third.

Dettori said: “When I got the sniff that this ride might be going I quickly made calls to Bob and he made me sweat! I’ve known him for 30 years and galloped horses for him in California. Bob said get him out and on the tail of Life Is Good.

“He’s a big horse and did exactly what I wanted him to do until the half-mile pole when I thought Life Is Good was getting away from me.

Frankie Dettori was thrilled after winning his fourth Dubai World Cup
Frankie Dettori was thrilled after winning his fourth Dubai World Cup (Neil Morrice/PA)

“I started trying something different to get him on the right leg, give him some fresh air and fill his lungs. Passing the furlong marker I thought ‘I’ve won this’. The last furlong was amazing – such a great feeling.

“Life Is Good is one of the best, but if there was a chink in his armour it was the mile and a quarter.

“This is an important race, and Dubai has taken up a good chunk of my life. Coming back it was as if I’m part of the furniture.”

Baffert’s long-time assistant, Jimmy Barnes, said: “I knew he was a true mile and a quarter horse and we laid out a plan to get the job done.

“He travelled for 26 hours to get to Saudi and came in second, but we knew after that we should give the World Cup a shot.”

Dettori delighted to get World Cup call from Baffert

Frankie Dettori is excited to team up with American trainer Bob Baffert in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan on Saturday.

The Italian got the call to ride Saudi Cup runner-up Country Grammer after Flavien Prat chose Hot Rod Charlie, trained by Doug O’Neill, instead.

Both Dettori and Baffert have won the Dubai World Cup three times, with the jockey scoring on Dubai Millennium (2000), Moon Ballad (2003) and Electrocutionist (2006) and the trainer sending out Silver Charm (1998), Captain Steve (2001) and Arrogate (2017).

“Once Flavien chose Hot Rod Charlie, I was fortunate enough to be asked to ride Country Grammer in the Dubai World Cup. It will be the first time I’ve ridden for Bob Baffert in about 30 years!” Dettori said in his blog for Sporting Index.

“Bob won this race for the first time back in 1998 and he’s a real legend, so I’m really pleased to be teaming up with him again, as well as the owner, Amr Zedan, who is fairly new to racing. I had a good chat with Zedan in the week, we get on well and he’s a nice guy, so it would be great to win it for connections.

“The favourite, Life Is Good, looks a very tough nut to crack based on his run in the Pegasus, but my horse has a lot of positives too. He ran a big race in the Saudi Cup, goes well on two turns and gets the trip really well.

“I was on Real World in that race, who lines up in this too, and I feel he’s better than what he showed that day. He was drawn wide and never got into the race. I still believe there’s a very good horse inside him.”

Dettori has a good book of rides on the card, including Lord North, who bids for back-to-back victories in the Dubai Turf.

“I’ve been back to England the last couple of weeks to sit on him at home and he’s in good health,” he said.

“He’s had his problems and would have needed his comeback run at Lingfield last month, but he now feels like he’s right where we need him to be in terms of fitness and well-being. Only time will tell if he’s back to his best, and it doesn’t get any easier as you get older – let me tell you – but from what I can feel, everything is very positive.

“Full credit to John, Thady (Gosden) and the team, because after the race last year we weren’t sure if we’d get him back. I hope he’s got the same brilliance, but we won’t know until we ask him the question on Saturday.”

Dettori has come in for a good spare ride on the William Muir and Chris Grassick-trained Pyledriver in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic due to an injury to Martin Dwyer.

“The Sheema Classic looks like the race of the night, with a great mix of top-quality Group One horses from across the world – it feels like a King George!” said Dettori.

“I was on the treadmill the other day and watching highlights from an Arsenal match when Martin called. First thing I thought was that he’d called me up to give me some stick about Arsenal, as he usually does.

Pyledriver will be Dettori's mount in the Sheema Classic
Pyledriver will be Dettori’s mount in the Sheema Classic (David Davies/PA)

“Anyway, he popped up on the video and the first thing I saw was this massive red nose, a bit like Rudolph! I didn’t realise that he’d taken a fall and hurt himself and then he went on to ask me about riding Pyledriver.

“He’s a very solid horse who didn’t get much of a run in Saudi having been drawn in 14 and I’m delighted to get the ride. He’s been drawn well this time in stall one, has some great form in the book and I’ll give it my best shot.

“I’ve raced against him a number of times, so I know a fair bit about his style of racing and have already got an idea of what to do. It’s a shame that Martin won’t be able to ride him, but I’ll give it my all and I’m looking forward to it.”