Country Grammer took the winner’s share of a $12 million purse in his last start. Now he is set to run in front of U.S. racing fans for the first time in more than a year.
The Bob Baffert-trained Country Grammer (5-2) is morning-line favorite for the Grade 2, $300,000 San Diego Handicap. Post time from Del Mar is 9:37 p.m. EDT, with TVG to show the 1 1/16-mile race for dirt routers aged 3 and up.
The San Diego serves as the local prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) on Sept. 3. Maximum Security (2020), California Chrome (2016) and Skimming (2000, 2001) all achieved the San Diego-Pacific Classic double since the turn of the century.
Country Grammer leads a field of nine that includes three other Grade 1 winners: Mandaloun (4-1), There Goes Harvard (5-1) and Tripoli (6-1).
In his last start on domestic soil, Country Grammer won Santa Anita’s Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes (G1) in May 2021. The son of Tonalist missed the rest of his 4-year-old season and did not start again until February’s Saudi Cup (G1), in which he ran second at King Abdulaziz Racecourse.
One start later, Country Grammer took the Dubai World Cup (G1) on March 26 at Meydan Racecourse under jockey Frankie Dettori. Back home in the U.S., jockey John Velazquez will get a leg up from Baffert on Saturday as the 5-year-old makes his Del Mar debut.
While Country Grammer did not attempt to defend his 2021 Hollywood Gold Cup crown, the top four finishers from the 2022 edition of that race May 30 at Santa Anita will run in the San Diego. That quartet is, in order of finish in the race, There Goes Harvard, Defunded (5-1), Royal Ship (4-1) and Stilleto Boy (6-1).
Brad Cox trains Mandaloun, who was promoted in February to winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. He settled for fourth place July 2 at Churchill Downs in the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2), his first start since running ninth in the Saudi Cup.
Tripoli won the 2021 Pacific Classic but has missed the board in each of his three subsequent starts, including a fourth-place finish June 19 at Santa Anita over turf in the American Stakes (G3). His trainer, John Sadler, has won this race four times, all since 2013.
Here is a look at the field for the 2022 San Diego Handicap (trainer and jockey in parentheses) with morning-line odds:
1. There Goes Harvard (Michael McCarthy, Diego Herrera), 5-1
2. Defunded (Bob Baffert, Abel Cedillo), 5-1
3. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Florent Geroux), 4-1
4. Stilleto Boy (Ed Moger Jr., Juan Hernandez), 6-1
5. Senor Buscador (Todd Fincher, Edwin Maldonado), 20-1
6. Parnelli (John Shirreffs, Victor Espinoza), 15-1
7. Tripoli (John Sadler, Tiago Pereira), 6-1
8. Country Grammer (Bob Baffert, John Velazquez), 5-2
9. Royal Ship (Richard Mandella, Mike Smith), 4-1
TimeformUS’ pace projections show Defunded going out to the lead under jockey Abel Cedillo, followed by Parnelli. Favorite Country Grammer is expected settle mid-pack in the early going.
San Diego links
Reinier Macatangay examines training videos and asks if Country Grammer will fire off the bench after competing in both the Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup. Macatangay also makes win bets for the San Diego and the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1).
Super Screener is looking past Country Grammer and Mandaloun for its top win contender. A second Bob Baffert runner, Defunded, is rated the top win contender.
On this week’s edition of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, trainer Brad Cox talks about sending Mandaloun to Del Mar. Cox will also ship Shedaresthedevil next week to defend her 2021 victory in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1).
Trainer John Shirreffs explains why Express Train is bypassing the San Diego to await the Pacific Classic.
This week on HorseCenter, hosts Matt Shifman and Brian Zipse make their picks for the San Diego and also handicap the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga.
Paul Benequista offers superfecta keys for Del Mar and Saratoga, identifying Stilleto Boy as “a very hard-hitting runner” to include on tickets.
Defunded is among nine of J. Keeler Johnson’s watch list runners starting this weekend at Del Mar and Saratoga.
Horsemen from out of state lured to Del Mar by the prospects of “ship and win” bonus money discovered during the first week of the meet that the pickings won’t come easy at the seaside oval.
Here is a look at other graded stakes taking place Saturday across the U.S. All post times are EDT.
4:50 p.m. – $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1), 3-and-up, six furlongs, Saratoga, Fox
Jackie’s Warrior (1-5) will carry 127 pounds – six more than any other rival – as he aims for a 12th victory in 16 career starts and fifth at the Grade 1 level. Jockey Joel Rosario stays aboard the 4-year-old Maclean’s Music colt, last-out winner of the True North Stakes (G2) on June 10 at Belmont Park, for trainer Steve Asmussen. Saffie Joseph Jr. trains Ny Traffic (6-1), eighth-place runner in the 2020 Kentucky Derby, who won the Chocolate Town Stakes on June 17 at Penn National. Willy Boi (8-1) is on a three-race win streak for trainer Jorge Delgado, including in the Smile Sprint Invitational Stakes (G3) on July 2 at Gulfstream Park.
5:37 p.m. – $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles, Saratoga, Fox
Epicenter (3-2) returns to the races for the first time since finishing second in both the Preakness Stakes on May 21 at Pimlico and the Kentucky Derby two weeks prior at Churchill Downs. After being squeezed back early in the Preakness, Rosario will hope for a steadier trip Saturday aboard the Not This Time colt for Asmussen. Chad Brown trains Early Voting (8-5), who finished 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Epicenter to score Brown his second Preakness triumph. Fellow Brown trainee and Grade 1 winner Zandon (2-1) loomed down the Churchill stretch May 7 but finished third behind late-charging victor Rich Strike and runner-up Epicenter.
8:37 p.m. – $400,000 Bing Crosby Stakes (G1), 3-and-up, six furlongs, Del Mar, TVG
Shaaz (7-2), who is trained by Bob Baffert, ran third for trainer Sean McCarthy on May 30 in Lone Star’s Steve Sexton Mile Stakes (G3), a race that took place during Baffert’s three-month suspension. Jockey Juan Hernandez gets the call on the 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt in this “win and you’re in” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Joseph trains Grade 1 winner Drain the Clock (4-1), who ships west off a fourth-place run in the Smile Sprint. American Theorem (4-1) made the grade May 29 in Santa Anita’s Triple Bend Stakes (G2) for trainer George Papaprodromou.