No matter what happens, it seems as if it’s impossible to keep Bob Baffert out of the spotlight. The Hall of Fame trainer won the second richest race in the world Saturday when Country Grammer drove wide down the stretch to win the $12-million Dubai World Cup at the Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates. It was Baffert’s fourth win in the race.
Most had conceded the 1¼-mile race to Life Is Good, who was dominant in winning both the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup in his last two starts. But the distance may have been too much for the colt as he gave up the lead in the stretch and finished fourth. Hot Rod Charlie, trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Flavien Prat, was second by 1¾ lengths. Japanese horse Chuwa Wizard was third. Midnight Bourbon was fifth in the 10-horse race with all four U.S. horses finishing in the top five.
The 5-year-old Country Grammer is owned by Amr Zedan and WinStar Farm. Zedan was also the owner of disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, after the colt tested positive for a medication not legal on race day. Medina Spirit died of what was thought to be a heart attack in December while preparing to resume his racing career.
Baffert is mired in lawsuits in the hopes of restoring Medina Spirit’s win and his own ability to race anywhere in the country. He is currently banned for two years by Churchill Downs and is facing a 90-day suspension in all jurisdictions. Baffert said Thursday that he had moved four of his promising Kentucky Derby prospects to trainers Tim Yakteen and Rodolphe Brisset so they would be eligible to gain Derby qualifying points.
Without speaking specifically of the issues, Zedan offered up a spirited defense and tribute to Baffert in a television interview in Dubai.
“That’s [the talent of] Bob Baffert right there,” Zedan said, pointing to his horse. “That’s what Bob Baffert is capable of doing. … I’m so overwhelmed. What an amazing feeling. … It’s been a rough year but now we’re back. [Baffert is] the best trainer in the world. The GOAT. … I’m just so happy, and happy for my friend Bob.”
Country Grammer did not have an easy path. He was originally trained by Chad Brown but was moved in a dispersal sale when his owner, Paul Pompa, died. The colt sold for $450,000 as a 2-year-old, but WinStar picked him up for $110,000 last year. He was moved to Baffert’s barn, where he ran second in the Californian Stakes before winning the Hollywood Gold Cup.
He was sent to New York, where he had an ankle injury, and went eight months between races before finishing a strong second Feb. 28 in the $20-million Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race.
“Who would use a $20-million race to prep for a $12-million race?” Baffert said with a laugh Saturday from Santa Anita. “That was a tough race with Life Is Good and Hot Rod Charlie. A really strong field. The horse just keeps getting better and better. It’s always thrilling to win the Dubai World Cup, but I’d still like to get one of those Saudi Cups.”
Prat has been riding both Country Grammer and Hot Rod Charlie and elected to go with Hot Rod Charlie. World accomplished Italian rider Frankie Dettori picked up the mount on Country Grammer, the first time the jockey had ever ridden for Baffert.
“Frankie Dettori was amazing,” Baffert said. “I told him he had to ride for me at least once before I retire. He’s one of the greatest of all time. What a great team. It was magical.”
There is no wagering in Dubai, but Country Grammer paid $20.10 to win in international betting pools.