Photo: Shamela Hanley/Eclipse Sportswire
Before unloading further Country Grammar in Class 2, $300,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Saturday, consider whether this son of Tonalist will fire off the bench after competing in both the Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup.
As mentioned before, some horses return from the Middle East without problems and return to form immediately. Other horses need a run or two to get back into shape. A few horses may not make it out of the desert at all. There are no strict rules for how to approach the runners returning from the Middle East. Handicappers almost have to guess.
A clue comes from watching morning practices if the replays are available. As for Country Grammer, his recent work in the company of stablemate Shaaz makes either Country Grammer seem unprepared to win this week or Shaaz ready to fire.
On July 13, Country Grammer and Shaaz worked six furlongs together at Santa Anita. The video is available on YouTube on the XBTV channel.
Look carefully at the stretch, especially the arms and hands of both practice riders. Despite minimal appeal, Shaaz maintains his position atop Country Grammer. In contrast, the rider on the Country Grammer digs into his rock by pumping his arms vigorously.
After the finish line, you can see Country Grammer start drifting to the right around the turn, as Shaaz breaks away from him for a lone gallop out as the video ends.
When the two work six furlongs again on July 24 at Del Mar, the stretch portion of the workout is almost a carbon copy of the July 18 work. The work is not available on the XBTV YouTube page, but disabled people can view it on the XBTV website with an account.
In the July 24 work, the arms and hands of Shaaz’s training rider once again seem relatively still throughout the stretch. Meanwhile, Country Grammer’s training rider is visibly pumping his arms and shaking his reins in an attempt to figure out more of the mountain. After the finish line, the rider of Country Grammer continues to urge him around the turn to keep up with Shaaz, with Shaaz maintaining the advantage comfortably unaided.
Trainer Bob Baffert can fire off the bench at high speed, and most of his runners are coming off a layoff, but he also trained Arrogate to a lifeless fourth in the 2017 edition of San Diego at extremely short odds.
Arrogate had entered San Diego after a layoff following a successful trip to Dubai. After a poor start in the Dubai World Cup (G1), Arrogate somehow prevailed in one of the most memorable races in the race’s history.
Country Grammer is coming off two grueling runs in the Middle East, which is a concern. In the Saudi Cup (G1), Country Grammer finished second behind the long shot closer to Emblem Road. A month later, Country Grammer took the Dubai World Cup (G1) at Meydan by 1 3/4 lengths over the famous Hot Rod Charlie.
Based on these two workouts and the knowledge that he is coming off a layoff following trips to Saudi Arabia and Dubai, Country Grammer looks like a questionable low-odds play this week in San Diego. Country Grammer’s connections probably won’t mind if they lose the San Diego Handicap, as it’s a stepping stone to bigger races like the Pacific Classic (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Regardless of how Country Grammer goes this week, these are the above red flags to consider before playing him at likely low odds. The best strategy is to play against him and see where he stands. If he comes back strongly, it is acceptable to play him at low odds next time.